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For all that the ‘Revie Years’ were glory years, it wouldn’t be Leeds United if there wasn’t a fair amount of disappointment to go along with the trophies. The 5th of May 1973 was one of those moments, perhaps one of the biggest as United came clattering down in the 1973 FA Cup Final. Rank outsiders Sunderland ripped up the form book and pulled off the biggest shock in an FA Cup Final by beating odds-on favourites United. Ultra-professional Leeds, despite all their experience at the top level simply did not produce the goods. The plucky Wearsiders, roared on by a red and white wall of sound, belied football logic by lowering United’s colours. Inspired by their veteran Manager Bob Stokoe, Sunderland served up some good football against a United side who never seemed happy from the kick-off.
Sunderland had reached Wembley with a refreshing brand of soccer and, after weathering an early flurry of United attacks, began to play to their full potential. The Sunderland defence, centre-half Dave Watson in particular, closed down quickly on off-form Allan Clarke, Mick Jones and Eddie Gray, and pieced together some promising moves of their own. After thirty-two minutes, diminutive midfield man Bobby Kerr put in a cunning lob which David Harvey was forced to tip away for a corner. Billy Hughes curled the kick in from the right, beyond United’s defensive cover under the challenge of Dave Watson, where Porterfield cushioned the ball on his thigh before crashing in a superb knee-high, right foot volley for the goal which was to win the Cup.
United’s all-stars found themselves chasing the game immediately Sunderland got their noses in front just after the half hour mark. United had the bulk of possession but made precious little use of it as Micky Horswill tackled like a tiger in midfield, never allowing Billy Bremner or Johnny Giles time or space. White-faced United were playing as though the Cup was destined for the North-East and seemed to lack belief in their own ability until the final quarter of the match. Trevor Cherry, the only non-International in the United line-up, got forward more from full-back the longer the game went, having a goal disallowed and becoming involved in that remarkable Jim Montgomery save.
Inevitably, the game is often remembered for the save that enabled the Wear-siders to hang on to the Cup rather than for the goal that won it. Midway through the second half Trevor Cherry linked up with his attack and put in a diving header which goalkeeper Jim Montgomery did well to parry. The goalkeeper, who had been immaculate throughout, flung himself to his right to brilliantly palm away the close range header from Cherry, who had sneaked unnoticed into the box. The ball ran loose to Peter Lorimer who, unchallenged, hit the ball hard and true from short range, only for Montgomery to twist in the air and fling out his arms to tip the ball onto the underside of the bar for an amazing double reflex save which defied belief.
Montgomery‘s superb effort sapped the United spirit and, although they pushed forward belatedly, anything less than victory would have been harsh on underdogs Sunderland. Leeds had a loud appeal for a penalty, after Dave Watson brought down Billy Bremner in the box, turned down and it was Sunderland who finished on an upbeat note as Vic Halom drew a marvellous save out of David Harvey, United just hadn’t played up to scratch, particularly in attack, where Eddie Gray, who had sparkled against Chelsea in the 1970 Final, was shut out to such an extent that he was withdrawn before the end.
Sunderland became the first Second Division side to win the trophy since West Bromwich Albion beat Birmingham City 2-1 in 1931. For skipper Bobby Kerr it must have been particularly sweet leading his side to victory against Leeds, the team against whom he had broken his leg in the FA Cup encounter six years earlier. United’s agony did not end at Wembley, eleven days later their leg-weary warriors lost 1-0 to AC Milan in a controversial European Cup-Winners’ Cup Final in Greece.
The only consolation for Leeds perhaps is that defeat spurred them on to a league winning performance in 1973-74, possibly their greatest achievement of all.