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The SOL archives: Sunderland secure FA Cup glory against Sheffield United in 2003-04

To celebrate 20 years of the Stadium of Light, Roker Report are looking at past games with programmes, highlights and match reports. This edition looks at the 2004 FA Cup quarter final victory against Sheffield United - our opponents this weekend.

Sunderland had made a steady if unspectacular start to the 2003-04 campaign, with the team lying in ninth position after thirty one games - though we did have three games in hand on most of the teams around us. The team would end up having a great end to the season and we wound up finishing third - only to be defeated cruelly in a penalty shoot-out by Crystal Palace in the play offs.

The FA Cup run brought everyone some respite from what had been a poor few seasons at the Stadium of Light, and we have not had a better run in the FA cup since that campaign.

Our previous games in the cup saw us beat Hartlepool 1-0 at home courtesy of a Julio Arca strike. We won a tricky away tie at Ipswich 2-1 in the fourth round thanks to goals from Tommy Smith and Julio Arca again, and we then drew 1-1 with Steve Bruce’s Premier League Birmingham at the Stadium of Light, before winning the away replay at St Andrews in extra time thanks to two Tommy Smith goals.

Smith was the cup hero in the fourth and fifth rounds - surely he couldn’t do it again in the sixth?

McCarthy wants to make history

An ominous start to his Sunderland career was slowly showing signs of progress, and the former Republic of Ireland manager was beginning to work his magic on the squad. McCarthy was delighted to be in the Cup quarter finals, but was pledging that his main aim was still promotion come May.

Someone told me that it was 12 years since Sunderland last reached the last eight of this competition. They went on to reach the final that year so let's hope for the same again.

I’ve said all along that promotion is our top priority but you cannot choose which games you want to win. We have to play Sheffield United here in the league next month and the bottom line is that I want to win both of them.

To get back into the Premier League is the most important thing, but I’d love to be involved with a team that gets to Cardiff.

Julio makes his 100th appearance for the lads

The Argentinian star had stuck with the club following relegation in 2002-03 - and his commitment to the club was matched by our support for him. Arca had managed to play his 100th game in our FA Cup victory over Birmingham at St. Andrews.

I didn’t know it was my 100th game. That is a nice surprise. It is a big achievement for me to play 100 times in a European country.

I’ve played a lot of games for the club and it would be good to play at least another hundred!’

My goal on my debut is one of my best memories of playing for Sunderland

To get to the final itself of course would be a dream but we have to take things slowly. We have to get past Sheffield United first and that will be difficult because they are a good team.

The captain believes the home support will push them to victory

Jason McAteer made a £1 million move to Sunderland from Blackburn in 2001 and was made captain by Mick McCarthy for the 2003-04 season - though, the scouse midfielder would leave Sunderland at the end of the campaign.

It was a great effort by the lads at St Andrews and it offers us a fantastic chance to reach the semi-finals.

My memories of the FA Cup are fairly good. I’ve been to a couple of quarter-finals before, with Liverpool and Bolton, and reached the final with Liverpool in 1996.

We’ve got a good home record this season and another couple of wins at the Stadium of Light over the next three days would leave us in a great position.

The one thing I would say is that your support will be vital to us in the coming weeks. Get behind the lads and we will do our best to deliver some success this season.

The start of a landmark

Sunderland v Leicester City - Premier League
The Stokoe Statue in all of its magnificent glory
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The Bob Stokoe statue is now one of the few things at the Stadium of Light that reminds us of our great history. I do love the Stadium of Light - and appreciate how important the ground has been - but sometimes it feels like the club doesn’t show off enough of our history at our current home.

The importance therefore of the Stokoe statue is immense because it is one of the clubs greatest moments. But the Stokoe statue project was launched after the death of the man himself on February 1st 2004. The fund aimed to raise £73,000 for the monument.

The 1973 FA Cup win us one of the club’s greatest achievements and it is only right that Bob Stokoe’s triumph is recognised with a permanent tribute in the form of a statue at the Stadium of Light

- Bob Fickling, Sunderland AFC vice-chairman.

Bob Murray secures the clubs financial future

After a disastrous campaign in 2002-03 in which the club wasted money on players - hired an inept manager in Howard Wilkinson - and suffered a inexplicably bad relegation. The club entered a period of financial instability which some speculated would lead to administration. Fear not though, Bob Murray had managed to secure the clubs future with two long term loans.

Since the club floated in 1996 it has made a considerable investment in both players an capital expenditure projects.

In the period the club has invested £220 million. The clubs debt at the year end was £36 million but this is less than the value of the club’s long term assets (Stadium and Academy).

The club has converted a short term overdraft with this long term bankers Barclays into a 7 year loan. Lombard have also increased the level of financing that they provide to the club and extended the payment period to 7 years.

A large portion of our industry is in trouble. I’m worried about smaller clubs like York City and Darlington.

We still have to be realistic though. Whilst the funding is another important piece of the jigsaw and goo news, it is still very tough. Our priority remains trying to win promotion but we must do this without risking the future of the club.

The similarities are eerily similar to today - with the club being relegated in a very poor financial condition. Though Bob Murray had the balls to tell the fans what was happening, unlike the current owner of Sunderland. Debts of £36 million were crippling the club, but Murray had finally found the answer he was looking for.

The Match

Sunderland v Sheffield United
Tommy Smith scores the winner for Sunderland - a jubilant evening on Wearside proceeded.
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

A 4.05pm kick off on a Sunday afternoon in front of the live Skysports cameras presented Sunderland and Sheffield United the perfect opportunity to display the talents of the Championship before a large TV audience. Just under 38,000 were in attendance for the game - including Newcastle United captain Alan Shearer.

Line Up

Sunderland lined up with a conventional 4-4-2, with the hero of the cup run so far - Tommy Smith - playing up front with Kevin Kyle. Julio Arca slotted in to his familiar left wing position, giving us that extra bit of quality in the wide areas. Unpopular figure Jeff Whitley played in central midfield, with captain Jason McAteer. Phil Babb slotted in to central defence with Gary Breen. The Poominator was in goal.

The Game

Tommy Smith scored the only goal of the game - a 14th minute strike that was completed with sweeping Sunderland attack.

Despite laying siege to Sunderland's goal in the second half, Sheffield United failed to create many clear chances. Their best chance fell to Phil Jagielka, whose close-range effort was saved by Sunderland keeper Mart Poom.

The game saw Sheffield United run out of steam, and eventually the rapturous Sunderland fans helped their team defend their way to an impressive victory - and a trip to Old Trafford for the semi-final against Millwall.

You can watch the highlights of that Millwall game below - if you want to make yourself upset at that stupid Tim Cahill goal!

Post-match reaction


The game's over now and we're all in Monday – there's a game on Wednesday. I don't want to play the po-faced football manager but that's the reality of it. You don't really get time to enjoy it sometimes and I don't think there's any point in winning the Sheffield United game and then letting things slip elsewhere.

So far, we're doing all right. I'm not trying to pour cold water on it – we've won and we're in the semi-final and I'm delighted with that – but there's still plenty of games to go.

I'm not trying to put a dampener on it but I am trying to keep a lid on things. Playing in a semi-final but not making the final is a bit like playing in the play-offs, but not earning promotion – it's only that last story that I'm looking for. We play Preston on Wednesday and if we get beat in that game and don't play well in it, then the Sheffield United game will be instantly forgotten about.

Niall Quinn

I was highly impressed with Tommy Smith. His workrate was excellent and he showed ability to get into areas that made him difficult to deal with. He pulled into areas where defenders found it difficult to keep hold of him. Even for the goal, he didn't go bombing into the box. He held back, you could see him telling George McCartney where he wanted the ball and he came up with a great finish.

Tommy looks like a livewire. You feel something is going to happen with him. He looks like a natural finisher. After this, I think he will become a man, almost, in football.

Alan Shearer - Sky pundit for the game

I thought Sunderland deserved it. They worked really hard and their home advantage told in the end. The support they got was fantastic and it was a fitting goal to get them into the semi-final.

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