Sunderland return to the FA Cup third round action today for the first time since 2018 – something that was taken for granted perhaps up until relegation to League One but that throughout the 1990s had felt like a staple of the fixture list.
That was an era before some clubs and supporters had started taking less of an interest in the cup, and with the draw always offering a story or two there was plenty of intrigue for the Lads in the middle of the decade when for two years running, they were handed home ties against Carlisle United.
The Cumbrians were not exactly local rivals, but they were close enough to add a bit of spice to the occasions and with the side flying high in Division Three during 1994-95 they headed back across the A69 to Wearside confident of an upset having forced a replay 12 months earlier.
After Roker Park had housed a bumper crowd the year before, the fixture was made an all-ticket affair with Carlisle backed by around 3,500 supporters in the Roker End.
Their heroes started the match attacking the other end however, and the Fulwell was almost breached when Paul Conway and Rod Thomas forced Alec Chamberlain into a smart double save early on. Derek Mountfield also tested Chamberlain as Mick Wadsworth’s men looked to force an advantage, but Craig Russell was looking sharp too and he created Sunderland’s first real chance – seeing his low drive being pushed around the post by Tony Caig.
Russell was not to be denied for too long and when the ball fell at his feet shortly into the second half he coolly converted from close range.
At that stage Mick Buxton may have expected his side to start taking control of proceedings but falling behind did little to quell Carlisle and in a match where both sides were getting stuck in, they continued to create some presentable openings.
Referee Philip Don, who had been in charge when Sunderland took on Liverpool in the 1992 final, had to keep a close eye on things and whilst he was able to let the game flow the Lads were not so successful in their own quest.
A hard-fought match remained end to end until the last. Martin Smith, who had been vomiting before kick-off, did well to last the pace but by the time Brian Atkinson was taken off in the dying minutes with what was later found to be a punctured lung the side were hanging on following Simon Davey’s powerful equaliser 12 minutes earlier.
Sunderland, two divisions above their guests, had been expected to win at kick off but were it not for a full length dive from Chamberlain to deny David Currie they’d have been looking at an embarrassing exit – as it was, they held on for a draw and were able to progress via a replay.
It had been the same story in 1994, when Sunderland had already huffed and puffed at Roker in the third round before coming out on top at Brunton Park.
On that occasion it needed extra time as well – but the main thing was getting through. It is a feat that club has now not managed since 2015, and hopefully a return to the same stage will have proven worth the wait come 16:45 in Shrewsbury this afternoon.
Saturday 7 January 1995
FA Cup 3rd round
Sunderland 1 (Russell 47)
Carlisle United 1 (Davey 78)
Sunderland: Chamberlain; Kubicki, Bennett, Ball, Scott; Smith, Atkinson (Mi. Gray), Ferguson, Armstrong; Russell, P. Gray. Unused: Norman, Howey.
Roker Park, attendance 15,523