Roker Reflections: Search for striker given top priority

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IN Cup week it is the normal course to push League worries and aspirations to one side and concentrate on making progress in the money-spinning and crowd-pleasing national knock-out competition. Sunderland manager Mr Bob Stokoe took precisely that course.

But his reluctance to talk about what comes next in the effort to maintain the pace of a revival of league fortunes has not hidden the fact that he is itching to get on with the rebuilding job.

The first part of the operation went through smoothly enough on the score of availability rather than priority with the signing from Newcastle United of David Young and Ron Guthrie. Now he will not be happy until he has landed a centre forward who can make the team as profitable at the front as it is secure at the back.

“This is the number 1 priority,” he says “and I won’t be wasting any time about finding the right man. A big, strong player who can knock them in will set the team alight. This is what we need, because it will bring the best out of players like Billy Hughes and Dennis Tueart. Then we can start going places.”

His conception of what the team needs is bang in line with popular option among club supporters. The arrival of such a player would not only set the team alight, but it would help to fill in those spaces on the terraces which have been the biggest brake upon the club’s striving for a return to more prosperous times.

A lot of ground has already been covered in tracking down the man who can fill the role Mr Stokoe has in mind for him. A successful conclusion to the effort to sign former Roker player John O’Hare would have been a quick solution. And through this ended in disappointment, it at least had the effect of indication the level at which the search is being conducted. The next investment is the big one and it is eagerly awaited by the Roker crowd.

While the build-up at top level goes on of course, there must inevitably be thoughts of at least balancing he intake by a pruning of staff to curb a spiralling wage bill.

In Sunderland’s present position with their average gate little better than half of the break-even figure, economy measures must always be borne in mind. And there is the further point that an overloaded staff is not only a drain upon slender income, but it can have the equally harmful effect of denying opportunity for progressive young players.

On the present count, Sunderland have 34 players on full time contacts and, in addition, they have seven apprentice professionals.

This is a big staff by any standards, particularly when it is considered that several of the youth team players appear regularly with the Reserves in the midweek North Midlands League games.

The section in which the great congestion arises is the back four, for they have on their staff no fewer than 12 players who have made appearances in these positions ... and Ron Guthrie has still to make his debut!

The arrival of Young and Guthrie and the dedicated play of Dave Watson provides stability in this section and the basis of a formation which is likely to be on regular call. It promises to provide an effective cure to defensive problems, but it also has the effect of extending the queue.

There was a lot to like about the way Young stepped out for his debut against Brighton last week. He worked well alongside Watson and between them they had the defence taking on a more commanding appearance.

Another dimension to the extremely satisfying performance in this section was provided by the late recall of 17-year-old Joe Bolton, who stepped up when Keith Coleman dropped out to give a great display, maker of the first goal, scorer of the goal of the game, he fought out the entire game with the assurance of a much more mature player.

The 4-0 win over Brighton was a big boost to team confidence and though it has been tempered somewhat by insistence that Brighton are a poor side and easy game for their Second Division rivals, Sunderland could do no better than win well. This they did and another items on the credit side was that they maintained command throughout against a team driven to robust methods by their desperate situation. This in itself is a sign of progress.

Ron Guthrie’s arrival on the Roker scene, delayed by a flu attack when everything was set for him to sign at the same time as David Young, was duly arranged on Tuesday. And 24 hours later he was happy to enjoy his first experience of the Roker atmosphere by turning out for the Reserves in Wednesday night’s North Midlands League game against Notts County Reserves.

He was not overworked defensively, but he accepted the chance to demonstrate that he can do an excellent job of work, both in tight marking and in going forward.

The Reserves’ 1-0 win became a vehicle for Jackie Ashurst and John Tones, both of whom, on the strength of sound performances, won their places in this afternoon’s Cup-tie at Meadow Lane.

And though it was Ashurst’s midfield work which gave the greatest grounds for satisfaction, the sight of his 30 yard match-winner will stay fresh in the minds of the bigger-than-usual crowd for a long time.

Sunderland youth team’s FA Youth Cup (Fourth Round) tie with Huddersfield Town has now been arranged to take place at Roker Park on Monday, January 22.

Story taken from the Football Echo on January 13 1973.