After the incredible events of the Manchester City games, the draw for the quarter-finals appeared to provide Sunderland with less formidable opposition when they were handed a home tie against fellow Division Two side Luton Town. On paper at least, the draw seemed to give Bob Stokoe’s men a great opportunity to progress through to the semi-finals however, having already recorded a 2-0 victory at Roker Park earlier in the season, the Sunderland boss knew that ‘The Hatters’ would be no push-over.
Luton were in a rich vein of form at the time and in the fourth round they had produced an outstanding performance to knock Newcastle United out of the competition with an emphatic 2-0 victory at St. James’ Park. The star man that afternoon was left-winger John Aston who apart from netting both their goals in a 2-0 victory, had given the United defence a torrid time throughout the game. The former Manchester United winger, who starred in their 1968 European Cup Final victory over Benfica at Wembley, was in top form and it was widely predicted that he would again be the match-winner in the Roker Park tie.
Sunderland fielded the same team that had beaten City and before the game chairman Keith Collings made a presentation to Jim Montgomery to mark his 453rd appearance for the club, a record for league and cup games. Kerr won the toss and elected to attack the Fulwell End but it was the visitors who threatened first and it needed some no-nonsense defending from Pitt who launched his clearance straight onto the Clock Stand roof.
Sunderland then broke on the left with Hughes winning the first corner of the afternoon but when Tueart’s kick found Halom at the far post, the Sunderland centre forward was penalised for a foul on Shanks. Halom was in the thick of the action again soon afterwards following great play by Malone and Kerr who exchanged passes to break on the right, but when the cross came in he was unable to make contact as the ball flashed agonisingly across the face of the goal.
Sunderland were certainly enjoying the lion’s share of possession in the opening stages but Luton were proving difficult to break down. However, as an attacking force, the visitors were offering little threat with Aston unable to get into the game largely due to some excellent defending by Malone. Midway through the half Halom seemed to be in with a chance following an excellent run and cross by Guthrie but his header cleared the bar. Guthrie then won the ball from Ryan to send Halom racing down the left wing but with Tueart and Hughes taking up good positions in the middle he delayed his pass and the chance was gone.
The first serious threat to the Sunderland goal came on the half-hour mark when Montgomery was forced to dive at Aston’s feet after Anderson had crossed from the right. Then, almost immediately only a brilliant recovery by Watson prevented Anderson from breaking through. The play then switched quickly to the other end of the park as the home side created three openings in quick succession. First Porterfield sent in a terrific drive which just cleared the bar and moments later Tueart was desperately close with a well-judged lob. Then Kerr picked up a headed pass from Hughes to send in an angled drive which missed the far post by the narrowest of margins. Chances were certainly being created but as the teams trooped off for the interval, Luton were undoubtedly the happier of the two camps.
The second period began with Sunderland again pressing forward at every opportunity and ten minutes into the half they finally breached the Luton defences.
The goal came from a left-wing corner and when Kerr floated the ball across, Watson stormed into the box to place a thumping header well out of Barber’s reach before being buried under his delirious colleagues. The goal immediately lifted the crowd and Sunderland stormed forward again with Tueart breaking clear on the right but his cross was just too high for Hughes. Then Hughes chased a high ball through the middle before sending in a delightful lob which beat Barber all ends up but just cleared the bar.
In the seventieth minute Luton made a change with Hales coming into the game in place of Aston whose predicted destruction of Sunderland’s defence had simply failed to materialise. Right from the kick-off Malone had refused to give the Luton winger an inch by producing a superb defensive display to keep the shackles on The Hatters’ danger man. “All the pre-match predications about what Aston was going to do to me was music to my ears,” recalls Dick, “Not that I needed any motivation for a game of this magnitude of course, but let’s just say it made me that little bit more determined and the fact that they took him off midway through the second half suggests I might just have done a decent job!”
Despite now having to chase the game, Luton were offering little in the way of an attacking threat with Sunderland continuing to create chances as they searched for the vital second goal that would effectively kill the tie. Halom came close when he fired a low shot into the side netting and then Porterfield was closer still when he hit a terrific left-foot shot from the edge of the box which travelled narrowly wide.
With eight minutes remaining however, the second goal finally arrived and again it was from a left-wing corner, this time taken by Hughes. Watson was up lending his weight to the attack but it was his fellow central defender Pitt who won the ball in the air to set up the chance for Guthrie on the edge of the six-yard box. The Sunderland full-back had his back to goal but he swivelled brilliantly to volley the ball past Barber to virtually settle the tie and bring the Wembley dream a step closer.
“I moved up to the edge of the box as Billy prepared to take kick,” recalls Ron, “Dave and Vic had taken up positions at the far post leaving a gap in the middle so I just decided to go forward on the off chance I might be able to pick up a loose ball. It was just instinct really and when Ritchie won the ball in the air it dropped perfectly for me to turn and volley into net.”
Whilst the game may not have reached the heights of the Manchester City replay, it had been a thoroughly professional performance by Stokoe’s team and for the first time many of his players began to think they could now go on and actually win the trophy. “It was only after the Luton game that I really began to think we had a real chance of going all the way and winning the F.A. Cup.” recalls Jim Montgomery, “When we’d set off at Notts County the competition was very much secondary to our main aim of avoiding relegation but now that we’d made it through to the semi-finals I really did begin to think that this could be our year.”
The following Monday Bob Stokoe and his team met up at the Roker Hotel to listen to the semi-final draw which in those days took place at F.A. headquarters in London and was broadcast live on radio at lunchtime. In fact at that particular moment, just above everyone else on Wearside seemed to be glued to their radios waiting in eager in anticipation before hearing that Sunderland would meet either Arsenal or Chelsea at Hillsborough with Leeds United and Wolves contesting the other tie at Maine Road. Either way Sunderland faced a massive task but the immediate concern among supporters was how to get a ticket for their team’s biggest game in the F.A.Cup since the mid 1950s.