Narrow 1-0 defeat at the Stadium of Light signals FA Cup exit...
SUNDERLAND 1 (van Aanholt 33), UNITED 0.
Sunderland: Pantilimon, Vergini, van Aanholt, Coates, O'Shea, Bridcutt, Rodwell (Larsson 37), Gomez, Alvarez (Wickham 46), Giaccherini (Johnson 74), Fletcher. Subs. Stryjek, Buckley, Beadling, Robson.
United: Silvestri, Berardi, Cooper, Del Fabro, C Taylor, Austin, Murphy, Sloth, Adryan (Sharp 62), Montenegro (Doukara 84), Antenucci. Subs. S Taylor, Killock, Thompson, Phillips, Dawson, Doukara.
Referee: M Dean
Booked: Bridcutt (Sunderland), Murphy (United)
The FA Cup Third Round trip to Sunderland saw Neil Redfearn make seven changes from the midweek defeat at Derby, including first starts for summer signings Dario Del Fabro and Brian Montenegro, while Liam Cooper captained the side in the absence of Stephen Warnock.
Both sides exchanged possession regularly inside the early stages with United containing their hosts before Sunderland’s first real sight of goal came on 12 minutes, Emanuele Giaccherini forcing a smart low stop from Marco Silvestri after making his way into the area.
Ricardo Alvarez then saw his strike deflected against Silvestri’s bar as Sunderland looked to assert some early pressure on the United goal. Stephen Fletcher passed up their best opportunity to open the scoring on 21 minutes, though, diverting Patrick van Aanholt ‘s left-wing cross over from close-range.
Casper Sloth stood firm to hack Santiago Vergini’s downwards header off the line from a corner, but United’s resistance was broken on the 33rd-minute mark as van Aanholt drilled a low strike across the face of goal and into Silvestri’s far corner to put Gus Poyet’s side ahead.
Once the deadlock had been broken, Redfearn’s men gradually started to see more of the ball inside the Sunderland half, but Rodolph Austin just found his path blocked off inside the area following a promising move on the stroke of half-time.
United came out from the break looking to immediately get on the front foot and Sunderland stopper Costel Pantilimon was forced into his first save of the afternoon within a minute of the restart. A swift attack saw Mirco Antenucci thread Adryan through on goal, only for him to be denied by the former Manchester City goalkeeper’s feet.
Pantilimon was then called upon to push away Brian Montenegro’s strike as the striker looked to squeeze in at the near post, while Austin drilled over the bar after being teed up by Adryan’s free-kick. It was a good spell of pressure and an encouraging start to the second half which continued as Casper Sloth’s low cross almost found a man inside the area.
With United pushing forward, the game was becoming inevitably stretched and Sunderland did have the ball in the back of the net again through Fletcher, only to be denied for offside by the linesman’s flag. Silvestri then clutched Giaccherini’s low effort as the hosts looked to re-assert their authority on the game.
Silvestri pulled off the save of the afternoon on 69 minutes to keep it at 1-0, stretching across his line to push away Fletcher’s goalbound effort with two strong hands, before holding onto Jordi Gomez’s attempt from range moments later.
At the opposite end, Montenegro blazed over the bar after being found unmarked at the back post and Austin dragged one wide from distance, while Fletcher threatened again for the hosts, drilling well wide of Silvestri’s far post after muscling into the area. Cooper then fired over as the game entered its final 10 minutes as United remained in with a shout.
United had to be increasingly alert to Sunderland’s counter attacks, though, and Cooper slid in to deny Fletcher in front of goal before substitute Connor Wickham headed a corner into Silvestri’s arms.
But the belief was still visible in Redfearn’s side as the game entered stoppage time, with their best chance of the afternoon still to come through Cooper. The defender rose powerfully inside the area to meet Luke Murphy's pin-point cross, only to see his towering header bounce off Pantilimon’s post and away with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
It proved to be the game's final meaningful piece of goalmouth action as the full-time whistle signalled United's FA Cup exit despite a valiant second-half display against the Premier League outfit.