Sunderland shooting towards top with exciting football

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SUNDERLAND, sharp and decisive, had Millwall reeling under pressure in a great, all-action display at The Den on Saturday, building well on an opening burst which could well have produced two or three goals. In the end they had to be content with a modest 1-0 margin, but the player who had the big say in this was Millwall goalkeeper Bryan King, who played the game of a life-time in making a string of magnificent saves.

Certainly Tueart, who snatched the match-winning goal in 42 minutes, could count himself unfortunate that this was the day on which King chose to excel himself. Without this inspired intervention, Tueart alone would surely have pushed the wining margin much near to a true representation of the balance of power. And he could well have been joined on the score sheet by Kerr, Porterfield, Watson and Lathan.

It has been Sunderland’s experience that points are not won easily at The Den. Last season, when Millwall missed promotion by one point and were unbeaten at home, Sunderland managed to force a 1-1 draw. This time is was different and they became only the second team to win there since March, 1971, with as fluent a display of attacking football as the New Cross crowd have seen for a long time.

Victory here balances Sunderland’s only defeat of the season in the opening game at Middlesbrough and puts them on to the championship target with two points from each home game and one point for each away game.

They have played through an unbalanced programme which gave them only two home games out of the first six with great resolution and a haul of eight points is eminently satisfactory. It puts them within two points of the current leaders, Sheffield Wednesday, who have played one game more and have gained eight of their ten points at home.

This is an intriguing situation which adds to the attraction of Saturday’s game at Roker Park, when Wednesday will provide the opposition. A modest victory by 2-1 would be enough to lift Sunderland ahead of the pace-makers and into a strong promotion position.

Proof that Sunderland were not feeling any hangover from Wednesday night’s failure to knock Stoke City, the holders, out of the Football League Cup to their own ground – task which none of the top sides would relish – was quickly provided on Saturday.

Lathan had twice been checked in dangerous positions before a prolonged spell of pressure produced a goal-line save by Kitchener, a Lathan effort just over the bar, and then a King save from Watson.

It was nearer still when Lathan was chopped down five yards outside the penalty area and from Kerr’s pushed kick Tueart sent on a fierce drive which was only inches wide with King helpless.

Millwall, always ready to go forward in strength when the opportunity arose, found progress difficult, for the middle was firmly held by Horswill and Ashurst and the general standard of coverage was so high that little pressure was brought to bear on Montgomery.

Tueart, who had become a target for tough treatment, refused to be subdued and in another bright attack he cut in from the left to hammer in a shot which had King at full stretch.

Then in the 42nd minute Coleman started a break on the left and when the ball reached the middle Tueart pounced quickly to win both time and space for a powerful right foot shot which had King well beaten.

As Sunderland continued to build up their attacks in the second half, Kerr, Watson and Porterfield all worried King with fine efforts, but it was still Tueart in the star role of chance – maker and marksmen. The extent to which his pace and control had rattled Brian Brown showed in the 62nd minute when he was tripped by the full-back who was immediately booked.

Within the next few minutes, Tueart swept past Brown again to hit another powerful shot which King managed to pull down from just under the bar.

Lathan, who had carried out a specialist task with great determination, was replaced by Hughes in the 68th minute and Hughes took up the running with spirit and purpose.

King pulled Millwall out of another dangerous situation when Porterfield stormed through on the right to hit a low centre, which looked like reaching the unmarked Tueart at the other side of goal. King dived out to snatch the ball practically from Tueart’s feet.

Then with only two minutes to go, Tueart took a throw-in on the right and Porterfield, meeting the ball at the near post, slammed it goalwards from a narrow angle and King performed perhaps his best feat of the day by planning the ball over the bar.

The pattern of the game was a real confidence-booster for Sunderland, who moved the ball around smartly in attack and found a new air of confidence in defence.

Tueart, who has rarely played better, was in tremendous form, carving up the Millwall defence from either wing and always ready to hammer in shots from all angles.

Watson turned in a fine performance, too, with Lathan playing his part well before being replaced by Hughes, who showed a lot of enthusiasm.

There was penetrating action in midfield, with Kerr leading the way well supported by Porterfield and McGiven.

Defensive honours had to go to Horswill for another impressive performance, but newcomer Jackie Ashurst, a 17-year-old Scot having his first look at League football, gave an excellent account of himself at centre half. Against though opposition, he was never beaten in the air, while his pace and tenacity won warm praise from all sides.

Malone and Coleman added constructive power to their defensive tasks, much to the Millwall’s discomfort, while Montgomery was in fine form, too, handling everything which came his way confidently and offering not the slightest encouragement to Milwall’s strikers.

Story taken from the Sunderland Echo on September 11 1972.