Sunderland avoid slip up against Leeds
Mackems win first FA Cup tie between sides since glorious triumph in 1973 final
John O’Shea (right) of Sunderland is challenged by Mirco Antenucci of Leeds United at the Stadium of Light. Photograph: Andrew Yates / Reuters
Shortly before kick-off several members of Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup-winning team were presented to the crowd. The only shame was that Dennis Tueart, Jimmy Montgomery, Micky Horswill and friends could not remain on the pitch on a day when Gus Poyet’s class of 2014-15 rather huffed and puffed their way into the fourth round.
It was the first time Sunderland had been drawn against Leeds United in the competition since that momentous May afternoon at Wembley almost 42 years ago. This time Leeds of the Championship were very much the underdogs and, with Poyet and Neil Redfearn opting to rest some key players exhausted by the festive League programme, it seemed the cup was neither side’s priority.
A section of Sunderland’s support has been willing Poyet to play Emmanuel Giaccherini and Ricardo Alvarez - arguably his two most creative individuals - in the same starting X1 and they finally got their wish.
It did not take long for the pair to combine in discomfiting Leeds. First Giaccherini turned Gaetano Berardi, leaving the defender on his backside, before forcing Marco Sivestri into a fine save. From the resulting corner Alvarez saw a left-foot shot deflected on to the bar.
Sunderland’s initial, somewhat deceptive, superiority was eventually made to count by Patrick van Aanholt. Making a welcome return following a shoulder injury, the left-back met Steven Fletcher’s pass before beating Silvestri courtesy of a crisp left-foot shot directed into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
Poyet replaced Alvarez with Connor Wickham at half-time and Wickham had barely touched the ball before Costel Pantilimon, a virtual spectator throughout the opening 45 minutes, saved well from first Adryan and then Brian Montenegro.
Clearly galvanised by Neil Redfearn’s half-time homily Leeds were transformed. A foul on Luke Murphy by Sebastian Larsson - on for the injured Jack Rodwell - prompted vociferous penalty appeals but the offence occurred fractionally outside the box and Rodolph Austin failed to make the most of the resultant free-kick.
Giaccherini and Van Aanholt were proving two of Sunderland’s brighter sparks and another advance from the left-back cued up the Italian for a shot well saved by Silvestri.
With several players looking jaded and chances coming and going at either end the tie had turned surprisingly open. Briefly it looked as if Billy Sharp might force a replay but Pantilimon proved equal to the substitute’s late shot.