Wednesday, 18 December 2013

1949-50 and Sunderland lose out on league title when top scorer is injured in crucial run-in

Taken from the GOLDEN BOOT - football’s top scorers by Mark Metcalf and Tony Matthews and published by Amberley Publishing in 2011.

When Sunderland beat Aston Villa 2-1 at home on 1 April 1950 they climbed to fourth place in Division One, just two points behind leaders Manchester United and with a game in hand. A 2-0 victory six days later against Middlesbrough reduced the gap to just a point with only six matches remaining. Success though had come at a price with Division One’s top-scorer, Dickie Davis, baldy injured in a collision with Boro ‘keeper Rolando Ugolini. His absence in the following five matches was to be crucial in denying Sunderland a seventh title success. 

The Birmingham born player had scored 23 times in 33 matches and and had formed a lethal partnership with Ivor Broadis. Standing 5’ 8” tall and weighing just over 11 stones, Davis knocked home his first of the season in the opening day defeat at Liverpool. Despite the result the performance showed Sunderland were set for a fine season and in the next game they drew 2-2 at Burnley with Davis proving a constant menace to the home defence and scoring another goal. 

Facing WBA at home the game was tied at 1-1 when Davis, receiving a pass from Jack Stelling, pivoted sharply and shot past Jim Sanders to ensure a 2-1 victory. It was just the tonic he and his side needed, and the following weekend the man who’d guested for Aston Villa during the war was in impressive form against Manchester United at Old Trafford. First, on nine minutes he hit a powerful shot that was going past ‘keeper Jack Compton, only for Johnny Carey to get the last touch.  Today such a goal would recorded as the striker’s, but if Davis was disappointed he didn’t show it as six minutes later he eluded Allenby Chilton and met a perfect Tommy Reynolds centre first time, Sunderland eventually running off 3-1 winners.

Sunderland’s next away game was at Newcastle and Davis was again to add his name to the scoresheet. There were doubts about whether his shot had crossed the line in a 2-2 draw, but there were no doubts about the quality of the finish, a back-heeler in a crowded goalmouth from 15 yards out. It was the sort of goal only a player in form would have attempted and Davis followed it up by opening the scoring in the first minute of the following weekend’s 2-1 home victory against Fulham. Two further goals followed in the next game at Roker Park, a header and then a tap in after the Charlton legend Sam Bartram inexplicably dropped a simple cross at the centre-forwards feet. 

With Sunderland and Davis maintaining their form into the New Year the Wearsiders travelled to face Birmingham City in mid-January. The Blues had in goal one of England’s greatest ‘keepers in Gill Merrick, but on 67 minutes he was to be left helpless by a magnificent Davis goal. Len Shackleton had crossed but with the ball going away from both Davis and the goal there seemed little danger before the Sunderland man leapt backwards to flick the ball over his head and past the startled Birmingham number one. 

It proved to be a crucial match winner and with his confidence now raised to new heights Davis struck his first hat trick when he scored half his sides goals in a 6-1 demolition of Derby. 

Cup holders Wolverhampton Wanderers had a fine defence with England international Billy Wright at the centre and the man many feel is the best ever between the sticks for the Black Country side, Bert ‘the Cat’ Williams. Dickie Davis though was now in sparkling form and on 11 March 1950 he notched his second hat-trick of the season as Sunderland won 3-1 at Molineux. Centre half Billy Shorthouse gave his much smaller opponent a right battering, but it failed to prevent him running off at the top of the First Division goal scorers chart with a total of 21. That rose to 23 when he grabbed the equaliser at reigning champions Portsmouth in a 1-1 draw and scored Sunderland’s second in a 2-2 draw at the Valley, nodding home a Tommy Wright cross with just three minutes remaining. 

Although he failed to net in the games against Villa or Boro at Roker Park, the double victories meant that since losing to Stoke City at the Victoria Ground in late December Sunderland had played 12 league games unbeaten, winning eight of them.  

Len Duns had been a fine servant for Sunderland, playing at Wembley when PNE were beaten in the FA Cup Final in 1937 and earlier collecting a League winner’s medal. He hadn’t though played a league game in over a year. With Davis missing he was drafted in to play outside right as Sunderland reshuffled with Tommy Wright moved to play centre forward. Fulham were easily beaten 3-0 at Craven Cottage, but with Middlesbrough fighting for their lives a derby match at Ayresome Park was always going to be a difficult test.  So it proved, as Sunderland went down 2-0. 

The performance saw further changes in the starting line up for the must win home game with Manchester City game. Bert Trautmann twice saved one of Jack Stelling’s penalty kicks as Sunderland flopped 2-1. When Sunderland subsequently lost a third consecutive game, at Huddersfield, they were out of the title race as despite two victories in the final pair of games it was not enough to pip holders Portsmouth for the title. Sunderland finished third just one point behind Pompey. 

Davis returned for the final match, a 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea at home, and scored twice to ensure he finished with 25 goals for the season, three more than Stan Mortensen of Blackpool and Jackie Stamps of Derby County.  Davis thus became the fifth Sunderland player to finish a season as the top scorer in the top-flight and he would surely have also collected a League winner’s medal if he had not missed 5 crucial games at the end of the 1949-50 season.

* All six of the Sunderland players who finished as top League scorer are featured in THE GOLDEN BOOT. 

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