With ten minutes to play on Saturday evening, many Sunderland supporters might’ve been preparing the angry tweets and the frustrated post-match sentiments as Matthew Pennington gave Shrewsbury the lead and seemingly set them on course for a victory.
It would’ve been all too familiar: ‘I never cared about the FA Cup anyway’, ‘I didn’t want the replay’, and ‘we can focus on the league now’.
We’ve seen it happen often during recent seasons as we fail to perform in such games, our lamentable cup record rears its head and we slump to another early exit.
Indeed, it’s been eight long years since we progressed past this stage, a remarkable and demoralising statistic.
On this occasion, however, it was different.
Ten minutes later, we’d somehow pulled the game out of the fire thanks to goals from Ross Stewart (from a corner, no less, which is a rarity in itself) and a late winner from Luke O’Nien.
There might’ve been a sharp intake of breath when Tony Mowbray brought Stewart on as he attempted to prevent a defeat, but the big Scot did the business again, and his impressive goalscoring streak since returning from injury shows no signs of ending.
Meanwhile, little needs to be said about another memorable contribution from O’Nien, who continues to show his immense worth on a weekly basis, and whose fulsome post-match praise for young Chris Rigg merely highlighted his humility and selflessness.
Winning breeds confidence, so the old maxim says, and at the moment, Sunderland are doing exactly that as our promising festive form continues into January.
Although Saturday was a different kind of victory, gritty and last-gasp, every positive result is bound to give this group of players an added spring in their step, even if the game was a vivid throwback to the League One years.
We’ve taken seven points from our last three league games, with the only blip coming at Blackpool, and now we’ve secured ourselves a berth in the next round of the FA Cup.
The last nine games have seen us lose only once, and while it’s too early to say that we’re genuinely motoring, we’re certainly starting to build a little bit of momentum, setting ourselves up nicely for Saturday’s visit of Swansea.
Mowbray’s team selection was arguably the main talking point on Saturday, as the head coach found himself in the usual dilemma: rotation versus as close to full-strength as he dared go, but the end result vindicated the boss’s decisions, even if we had to dig deeper than perhaps he would’ve liked.
Jay Matete had been loaned out to Plymouth on Friday, and with a lengthy injury list, the likes of Jewison Bennette, Abdoullah Ba and Trai Hume were given places in the starting eleven, and they acquitted themselves well.
Even if the result hadn’t gone our way, there was enough evidence on display to suggest that our wider squad can deliver when called upon. Rigg, at fifteen years old, showed impressive composure when he entered the fray, and you can only imagine what a feeling it must’ve been for him.
Saturday’s game also provided a stiff test for the ever-improving Edouard Michut, and in many ways, it was the perfect examination for the young midfielder as he continues to settle into English football.
An encounter with a physical side, played on a poor quality pitch and in challenging conditions was arguably the ideal situation for the on-loan PSG midfielder, not least after his stern examination at Wigan, where he emerged somewhat battered and bruised after falling victim to some roughhouse tactics by the Latics.
Although the club continues to move forward impressively, 2023 naturally has an added layer of nostalgia when it comes to Sunderland and the FA Cup, with the fiftieth anniversary of our unforgettable 1973 triumph to be marked in May.
With a game against Fulham to come in the next round, it’ll be interesting to see how far the current group can go in the tournament, and whether they can meet the challenge of playing a useful Premier League side without any fear.
Bring on the trip to Craven Cottage, and let’s see if we’ve got what it takes to keep Aleksander Mitrovic quiet, and to see whether we can shock Marco Silva’s team in their own backyard.