SALUT! Sunderland is very sorry that the site was unavailable yesterday and that it appears to be making only a gradual return towards normality. The servers said “emergency” maintenance was needed but are notoriously bad at keeping people informed. This posting was therefore wasted yesterday so here it is again …
Beating Manchester United on their own ground is not impossible, even for Sunderland.
Some, like a Netherlands-based reader Paul Devine, remember the last-but-one actual victory at Old Trafford very well.
“Against Best, Law, Bobby, Paddy and the rest, no one gave us an earthly … I was there, transported on a Roberts bus (apostrophe or no apostrophe) from Wingate to Stretford.”That was in this game’s Guess the Score competition and Paul went on to predict the same scoreline for Saturday.
Back in 1968, Sunderland went to the Old Trafford “to make up the mumbers”, as Kenneth Wolstenholme put it, on the last day of 1967-68 First Division season, and tore up the script to shoot into a two-goal lead.
First Colin Todd combined with Gordon Harris, whose wonderful long pass found Bruce Stuckey on the right wing. His cross was swept home by Colin Suggett. Then a move started by George Herd led to another right-wing cross, this time from Suggett, which George Mulhall converted with a powerful if, for him, rare headed goal.
George Best got one back for United but it was our day. We finished 15th, Man Utd would have had to make do with second place as Man City beat Newcastle United away to win the title for the first time since the same year Sunderland had, until then, last won the FA Cup (1937).
There is no record of Sunderland fans doing a Posnan at Old Trafford on May 11 1968 and United recovered to complete aggregate victory over Real Madrid in the European Cup semis (Champions League precursor) before winning 4-1 against Benfica in the final at Wembley.
Paul was not the only character from these parts to be at that 1968 game. Pete Sixsmith was there, too, and was able to reminisce when reporting on the sensational 1-0 win 46 years later that helped Gus Poyet pull off his great escape.
First, Pete on 1968:
In 1968, as a schoolboy, I stood in the paddock at Old Trafford, dressed in my school blazer, short trousers and school cap, as we won at what was then the home of the English Champions. Little did I realise as goals from Colin Suggett (spotted scouting for Ipswich Town at Spennymoor the other night) and George Mulhall saw us to a win that I would be in my 60s before it happened again.
And then, an older and wiser Sixer on 2014:
The miracle arrived in the guise of Connor Wickham, a player who has spent much of the last three years on the periphery of the periphery. His two goals at Eastlands changed our whole outlook and gave us the inner mental strength to beat Chelsea, batter Cardiff and then comfortably win at Old Trafford for the first time since I was at school. Have I mentioned that already?
The goal was well taken by Seb Larsson, a player who looked as if he was on his way out but who may yet earn himself another contract after four outstanding games in April and May. He probably would be the first to admit that his season has been underwhelming but his recent form shows us what he is capable of. We may ask why we did not see more of it earlier but let us be thankful for the fact that the Swede has roused himself and has played an important part in the rejuvenation of our club.
A few months earlier, of course, we had also beaten Man Utd – home by 2-1 and then on penalties at Old Trafford after falling 2-1 behind in the second leg of the League Cup semis. Normal service resumed last season with a 2-0 away defeat, though Jack Rodwell’s first goal for us had given us a draw in the home fixture.
No one, once again, gives us much of a hope on Saturday. Let us see if the more glorious part of our history can be repeated.