Why is the FA Cup so special? It is of course the original and definitive cup competition, the oldest in the world. But teams can win the League Cup, and it is forgotten about the next season, if not the next day...I did not see Liverpool exactly buoyed by their win over Cardiff. There is a romance about days like this, going to a proper Northern football ground to scrap it out in a knock-out game.
On this very Saturday in 1973, as a mere kid, I took my usual cycle ride to Roker Park, and I joined a capacity 53,150 others for what ended up as a fairly routine 2-0 win F.A. Cup quarter final win over Luton Town, in a competition we eventually won by not just beating the then great Leeds Utd, but at times in the Final actually toying with them by playing keep-ball. I say that day was a routine win, but we were in a way watching history in the making, winning through even though Luton town had done the double over us in the league; we had put out Manchester City in scenes of great drama in the previous round.
That great final of 1973 obviously has become the stuff of Sunderland folklore. The team against the Hatters on March 17th, 39 years ago was the same as the F.A. Cup winning XI: Jim Montgomery, Dick Malone, Ron Guthrie, Mick Horswill, Dave Watson, Richie Pitt, Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Vic Halom, Ian Porterfield and Denis Tueart. I remember how many people smoked at the game, crowds standing, and the smell of Bovril and pies which somehow all added to the atmosphere.
Martin O’Neill knows all about what happened in 1973 and wants the chance to make it happen again - he could do worse than show the DVD to the current Lads. He selected an unchanged team to face the task of getting something from the game and guiding Sunderland to the semi-finals of the FA Cup for the first time since Mick McCarthy took us there as a Championship team in 2004. We lined up with 22 Mignolet, 02 Bardsley, 03 Bridge, 04 Turner, 16 O'Shea, 07 Larsson, 08 Gardner, 14 Colback, 23 McClean, 09 Campbell (Vaughan, 73'), 52 Bendtner.
Everton have won 7 of the previous 11 F.A. Cup meetings between the sides, and David Moyes stirred up some controversy by putting out a much-changed team that ultimately surrendered tamely at Anfield, an act that at least indicated his focus for this part of the season. Aside from Jagielka being dropped to the bench there were no surprises in the home team: 24 Howard, 03 Baines, 05 Heitinga, 15 Distin, 18 Neville, 23 Coleman (Gueye - 72'), 10 Drenthe (Stracqualursi - 85'), 17 Cahill, 21 Osman, 25 Fellaini, 07 Jelavic.
In a lively start, Sunderland forced 3 corners after McClean's initial run, but with Everton also making their presence felt at the other end, Gardner looked like he was close to giving away a penalty when impeding Royston Drenthe at the edge of the box, but the referee waved away all home protests.
Sunderland were playing with a lot of confidence going forward and won a free kick on the right wing, which Gardner pushed across for "goal machine" Phil Bardsley at the edge of the box. He drove a firm shot through a crowd of players, across Tim Howard which ended in the bottom left corner of the Everton net. The full back's first of the season pushed this tie in Sunderland's favour in spectacular fashion after just 11 minutes.
This was an entertaining and open game with Sunderland more than playing their part and passing the ball well, and both sides were showing plenty of energy.
What is it though with Tim Cahill and Sunderland? On 22 min. Jelavic rose highest to a cross from the Everton left and the Australian diverted the ball past Mignolet with a smart flick, seeing to it that the visitors did not have it all their own way. Cahill is still one of the best headers of a football, and always seems to find the net against us. At least if the game stayed like this we would be looking forward to a replay at the SSOL.
The game moved at an amazing pace and there were one or two individual tussles going on, notably an ongoing niggle between Phil Neville and Niklas Bendtner. After one or two warnings from the referee the big Dane was booked for backing into him near the halfway line, Neville already having been cautioned. Soon after that Johnny Heitinga was shown a yellow for catching our wonderboy James McClean when bursting through.
Both sides were definitely having a go and the entertainment continued when on 42 min. Royston Drenthe took a free kick from 25 yards out and hit the corner of bar and post to Mignolet's left - an excellent effort.
Surely the second half could not continue at this breathless pace? Larsson went close with a free kick from near the corner flag, and the Distin/Campbell battle was looking pretty tasty when the England International ran on to a couple of through balls. But at the other end Mignolet had to save again when Cahill snatched at a ball, but could not direct his shot.
Up to the hour mark Everton were dominating, with the Black Cats being seen less as an attacking force. It turns out that Everton have only scored more than one goal once in their last 16 games, but Jelavic went close again on 63 min. with a header after a free kick was awarded against Bardsley, who had tussled with Fellaini. Soon after that Distin was finally booked after taking out Campbell on the halfway line after he received a forward ball from Bendtner. I always cringe when Fraizer goes down given his knee reconstructions over the past couple of years - he was replaced by David Vaughan for the last quarter hour.
Chances were becoming scarce at either end as the players were noticeably running low on energy, and it was becoming a tighter game, but Everton tried to press forward when they could. Their crosses were somehow not hitting the target, though, and overall Turner and O'Shea were coping pretty well.
As the hosts continued to press, Mignolet was again the hero, preserving the 1-1 outcome for Sunderland with a great double save with just a few minutes on the clock. He went down low to his right to save from Heitinga then recovered his ground superbly to block Jelavic's angled drive. Not quite Montgomery's stunning double save from 05.05.73 but still a fantastic effort which kept the blues at bay.
So david Moyes could not celebrate his 10 years in charge with the win he really wanted. Sunderland played their part in a well-contested tie, and the away fans were of course the happier going home.
Martin O'Neill on SAFC.com described the double save as "wonderful", and added: "From where I was standing I thought it was in, but he did well to make the save and I'm delighted for him. Mignolet kept us in the game and it would have been cruel on us if it had gone in - he deserves great credit".
"It was a fantastic effort from the team. The players' commitment and determination was brilliant". O' Neill also reserved a word of praise for the travelling fans who backed their side all the way. A sold-out contingent of 5,800 supporters made their trip to Goodison Park despite the game being televised live on TV, they made their voice heard and in the context of Everton's 5 home wins on the trot and victory over Spurs here last weekend, this was an excellent result for the Lads.
The replay at the Stadium of Light on March 27 will surely be a sell-out, if we re-discover the spirit of 1973, and this team has the talent to inspire the fans and do just that.
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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