Sunderland AFC Former Players Association
Sunderland AFC Former Players Association

1973 Part 3 - Death Defies Sunderland!

Written by Brian Leng

Having decided to release defenders Ritchie Pitt and Keith Coleman, Bob Stokoe had acted quickly to plug the defensive shortfall in his team by signing Ron Guthrie and David Young from his former club Newcastle United. Both were very much fringe players at St James’ Park but nevertheless, vastly experienced defenders who were seen by Stokoe as ready-made replacements for Pitt and Coleman. Young, a solid and dependable central defender, had made his debut in the 4-0 victory over Brighton early in January while Guthrie made his first appearance in a red and white shirt in the 1-1 draw at Swindon a few days after the Notts County replay. The changes in personnel certainly hadn’t been restricted to playing staff with Stokoe having already made another significant signing with the appointment of Arthur Cox as first-team coach.

Charlie Hurley signing autographs before the 4th round tie at Roker Park.

The fourth round draw had handed Sunderland a home tie with Fourth Division Reading and whilst most pundits saw the game as something of a formality for Bob Stokoe’s team, they can’t have reckoned with the heroics an opposition goalkeeper by the name of Steve Death. Reading were managed by former Sunderland legend Charlie Hurley and before the game he received a terrific reception as he walked out onto the Roker Park pitch.

 

The game saw Ron Guthrie make his first appearance in the competition since arriving from Newcastle United with Dave Watson reverting to his more accustomed defensive role and John Lathan coming into the side to lead the attack. Hulme won the toss for Reading and decided to attack the Roker End but it was the home side who produced the first serious attack when Porterfield drove the ball into the middle for Hughes to shoot narrowly wide. Then a break down the left by Wagstaff set up a chance for Chappell but his shot travelled straight through to Montgomery. The visitors certainly weren’t overawed by the occasion and Wagstaffe threatened again on the right but when he was dispossessed, Sunderland broke to create the first clear cut chance of the game. Tueart won possession and when he sent Lathan away on the right, the Sunderland striker sent over a terrific cross for Porterfield whose powerful drive was saved brilliantly at the foot of the post by Death.

 

It was end-to-end stuff and Montgomery was forced to dive at the feet of Bell to prevent the Reading striker opening the scoring. However, the visitors came back again to force a corner and when Cumming’s kick was headed behind by Malone the Reading winger crossed again for Chappell to beat Montgomery at the near post with a backward header high into the net. 

Chappell heads past Jimmy Montgomery to give Reading the lead.

Sunderland responded immediately and Guthrie almost grabbed the equaliser when he hit a tremendous drive from the edge of the penalty area and when his shot was cleared from the line he followed up to send another terrific strike which travelled inches over the bar. Steve Death in the Reading goal was already proving to be a major obstacle for the home attack and he denied them again when he pulled of a brilliant save to keep out a 25-yard drive from Porterfield. Then Sunderland won a free kick just outside the box and when Tueart squared the ball for Malone, the Sunderland full-back sent in a fierce right-foot shot that just cleared the bar.

 

It was all Sunderland now and their efforts were rewarded in the thirty eighth minute when Tueart grabbed the equaliser. Lathan started the move when he won the ball off Hulme to send Hughes away on the left and when the Sunderland striker crossed, then ball dropped invitingly for Tueart to squeeze his shot past Death through the narrowest of gaps.

 

Whilst Reading had more than held their own before the break they, were soon on the back foot in the second half with Sunderland laying siege on their goal straight from the kick off. Only frantic defending by the visitors kept the home side at bay but five minutes into the half they were powerless to intervene as Malone hit a terrific rising drive from the angle of the penalty area. It looked a goal all the way but his effort crashed against the underside of the bar and after a desperate scramble in front of goal the ball was scrambled away from a corner.

 

It seemed only a matter of time before Sunderland would score but Reading were defending brilliantly, particularly goalkeeper Steve Death who was beginning to look unbeatable after producing a string of stunning saves to deny the Sunderland forwards. On seventy three minutes Stokoe brought on Ashurst to replace Kerr who was struggling after being injured ten minutes earlier. Watson was immediately moved up front to lend his weight to the attack as the home side searched desperately for the winner but despite this extra fire-power, the visitor’s defence held firm.

John Lathan fires home only to see the goal disallowed for offside.

Then, in the final minute Sunderland looked to have won the tie when Lathan was sent clear to slot ball past Death, but his celebrations were short-lived when the effort was disallowed for offside. Moments later the final whistle blew and as the Reading players celebrated, Bob Stokoe and his team were left with the prospect of a potentially tricky replay at the Fourth Division side’s tight Elm Park ground.

Many pundits were predicting a possible upset in the replay, but with the fifth round draw producing a mouth-watering tie away to Liverpool or Manchester City, Bob Stokoe was determined there would be no mistakes second time around. The Sunderland boss decided to take a positive approach by bringing Ritchie Pitt back into the centre of defence with Dave Watson moving up to lead the Sunderland attack. In less than two minutes his tactical decision had paid dividends in dramatic fashion with a goal that stunned the home crowd into silence. The breakthrough was engineered by Tueart who won the ball from Wagstaffe in midfield and when he found Kerr down the right with a perfectly weighted through ball he raced into the box to pick up the return to send in a terrific shot. It looked a goal all the way until Hulme cleared from the line but only as far as Watson who controlled the ball before hammering his shot into the net from the edge of the box.

It was the perfect start for Stokoe’s men and things got even better fifteen minutes into the game when they doubled their advantage. Watson began the move out on the left and after cutting inside he squared the ball to Tueart just inside the box. The Sunderland midfielder still had plenty to do but as Death raced from his goal he produced a delicate chip over the Reading ‘keeper and into the net.

 

Five minutes later Sunderland almost added a third when a corner from Tueart was flicked on by Watson for Hughes to send in a terrific header which was brilliantly saved by Death at the foot of the post. Sunderland were now in total control with Reading offering little in the way of an attacking threat and it came as no surprise when the visitors netted a third goal on the half-hour mark. The goal came from a Porterfield throw which was picked up by Tueart and laid back to Kerr who gave Death no chance with a powerful shot from eight yards.

 

It had been a devastating first-half performance by Sunderland and with the game effectively over as a contest they were content to sit back and defend throughout the second half. Reading did manage a consolation when Pitt upended Chappel in the box for Cumming to fire home from the spot, but by then it was very much a case of ‘too little, too late’ for the home side.

 

After the game Sunderland’s travelling fans gathered around the players entrance chanting for Charlie Hurley to make an appearance and when their ‘Player of the Century’ obliged, he came armed with a bottle of champagne which he duly shared with supporters. It was a wonderful moment and one which typified the sort of rapport the great man had with the Sunderland faithful.  

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