Team: Parkes, Clement, Gillard, Hollins, McLintock, Webb, Thomas, Kelly, Masson, Bowles, Givens
On 23rd October 1976, Rangers took on Sunderland at Loftus Road. James Mossop wrote the following match report for the Sunday Express:
‘Two voices of wisdom, reasoning and influence, joined the growing West London clamour of “Bowles for England” last night.
Long after that wind-blown cry had swept jubilantly around the Shepherd’s Bush terraces in celebration of a conjuror’s goal by Stan Bowles, the chorus was picked up by the managers.
First, there was that aggressive Scot who is Sunderland’s acting manager, Ian MacFarlane. He rapidly buried the disappointment of defeat to bellow the belief that there should be a place in the England squad for Bowles.
“I am Stan’s No.1 fan. I would like to see him give himself the chance of being picked for England again. It’s a question of attitude,” he said, recalling that Bowles had been under him at Carlisle.
“Stan is a great performer and a great player. He is in a world of his own. They say Rodney Marsh is a great entertainer, but I have handled both and believe me, Stan is different class. The difference is like night and day. Stan can sustain his brilliance.”
What, then, must Stan add to his game so that Don Revie cannot ignore him? Nothing, according to Rangers’ manager Dave Sexton who, nodding in agreement with MacFarlane, said: “He is doing everything right on the field.”
“Stan the Man” emphasised his footballing talents with Rangers’ 66th minute goal – an essay in skill and composure – in direct contrast to some of his off-field activities that query his “attitude”.
A corner was volleyed clear by Eddie Kelly to Dave Thomas, who hit a long pass forward for Bowles. As Stan sprinted into Sunderland’s half, he collected the ball and was away.
Defenders chased, goalkeeper, Barry Siddall raced from his goal, stopped and started again, and then halted in retreat for the jinking magician to baffle them all before sending the ball, gliding into goal.
It was a beautiful movement, in a match always dominated by Rangers. They never hinted at surrendering the 29th minute goal from Frank McLintock, battered in at close range after John Hollins’s fierce, swerving free kick has rebounded from Siddall.
Sunderland had arrived without a solitary member of the side which so romantically won the FA Cup in 1973, without a win all season and so it seemed at times, without a hope.
Rangers should have had more goals, although the ones they scored were in direct response to scares provoked by Sunderland – first when expensive centre-forward Bob Lee missed an easy chance as Phil Parkes palmed Jim Holton’s header straight to his feet.
And again, when Holton, in the last match of a month’s loan from Manchester United, headed against a post.
‘Keeper Siddall, a recent signing from Bolton, denied Ian Gillard and Don Givens with fine saves and Givens, recently a target of crowd abuse, dismayed the fans again with an early miss when the teasing, tantalising Thomas floated a neat centre towards him.
It was a comfortable win for Rangers, a fine addition to their magnificent 3-3 draw in Bratislava in midweek.
Sexton was delighted with his team’s performance. He said: “I was a bit afraid our match in Czechoslovakia might have had the wrong effect on our form, but it was a great effort by all the team and a marvellous goal from Stan.”
With only five points separating the teams stretching from first to 16th place, Rangers are in the middle of the pack. A string of good results would soon have them leap-frogging up the table.
But these are grim times in the history of Sunderland, the famous North-Eastern club. Bob Stokoe spent a fortune on players and then resigned as manager.
MacFarlane, not knowing whether he will take over or be booted out, has to spend his days in the unhappy limbo of trying to spread cohesion and spirit among a crew yet to reach any understanding at all.
The fight to survive in the First Division looks like being long and hard.’
This win left the R’s in 13th spot but just four points behind leaders Middlesbrough.