by Jason MELLOR
LONDON: – Sunderland were handed an opportunity to relive arguably the greatest day in their 136-year history when they were paired with Leeds United in the FA Cup.
The Wearside club will be forever synonymous with a Wembley final victory as thrilling as it was unexpected over Don Revie’s all-conquering Leeds side in 1973.
A goal from Ian Porterfield for the Division Two outsiders brought the trophy back to Roker Park for only the second time, and it remains a result and occasion that will forever be etched into FA Cup folklore.
Despite his goal, Scotsman Porterfield took second billing to Jim Montgomery, the Sunderland goalkeeper who produced one of English football’s most iconic saves, a breathtaking double stop to deny Leeds duo Trevor Cherry and Peter Lorimer.
Portfield, whose career led him to coach in the Far East with Busan I’Park for a three-year period from 2003, sadly lost his battle with colon cancer in 2007, aged 61.
Montgomery, now a Sunderland club ambassador, has been the centre of attention in the build-up to the game this week.
He said: “I’m just pleased people still talk about the 1973 Cup Final and remember what it meant to the people of Sunderland.
“I was 29 years old when we won the Cup, and I wish I was 29 again now!”
The 71-year-old will be at Sunday’s third round tie, which is expected to attract a lower-than-usual crowd this season of around 30,000 to the Stadium of Light despite a large contingent of Leeds supporters making the trip to the 200-mile round-trip to the North-East.
Some 42 years on, the roles are reversed, with Premier League Sunderland favourites to progress at the expense of a Leeds side currently struggling in the Championship, English football’s second tier.
– Loyal fanbase –
The West Yorkshire club were the last winners of the English First Division before the inception of the Premier League in 1992.
Despite a decade and more of financial problems which has seen their very existence brought into doubt, they retain a loyal fanbase, and will be backed by almost 6,000 travelling fans.
Both clubs have enjoyed only sporadic FA Cup success since their meeting in 1973.
Sunderland returned to Wembley in 1992, where they were beaten by Liverpool, although a mix-up initially saw them presented with winners’ medals until the oversight was quickly rectified.
They were beaten semi-finalists in 2004, losing to Millwal at Old Trafford, a stage last reached by Leeds in 1987, when they lost to eventual winners Coventry at Hillsborough.
A victory at Manchester United as a third-tier club in 2010 remains their most notable recent achievement in the competition.
Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet tasted FA Cup final success as a player with Chelsea in 2000.
The Uruguayan guided the Black Cats to last season’s League Cup final defeat against Manchester City, and insists a repeat run to Wembley this time wouldn’t be detrimental to his side’s bid to climb away from the Premier League relegation scrap.
“When we got to Wembley last year, I spoke to Jim Montgomery a lot in the build-up. He supports the club so much and it was a difficult day for him when we lost.
“He’s the one from the 1973 team that I’m closest to because he’s around the club a lot of the time.
“I’d not be telling the truth if I said I’d watched that ’73 final all the way through. Memories like that are more for the fans. I don’t want to live in the past, I support the club and I want to create my own history here.”
It’s the sides’ first FA Cup meeting since 1973, and Poyet added: “It’s a special game. It will always be a special situation between two teams who played a final, even if it was a long time ago.”
More than a decade after dropping out of the Premier League, Leeds have similar relegation worries near the foot of the Championship.
They’re currently just a point clear of safety after failing to win in their last five games.
“It’s one of those games where if you can get through to the next round it just helps everything else,” said Neil Redfearn, who is already the fourth full-time head coach employed by Massimo Cellino in a turbulent first nine months in charge at Elland Road for the controversial Italian.
Redfearn added: “We’ll put out a competitive side against Sunderland, and we want to go up there to win. The FA Cup is a great competition and it’s one everyone looks to for upsets.”