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Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Third Round - Sunderland v Portsmouth

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On This Day (December 11th 1999): Sunderland win first FA Cup tie at the Stadium of Light!

We hadn’t had a home draw since January 1995 when we were still at Roker Park, so it was good to finally see the Stadium of Light host it’s first FA Cup tie on this day back in 1999.

Photo by Steve Morton/EMPICS via Getty Images

It’s strange looking back now, especially considering we had another five years at Roker Park, that our epic quarter-final replay victory against Chelsea, courtesy of that header from Gordon Armstrong, would be our last win in the competition at our old home.

There were five home FA Cup ties (or replays) staged at Roker, that seemed to be dominated by drawing Carlisle United in the early 1990s and was concluded with a Dennis Bergkamp masterclass in January of 1997.

As we (mostly) dominated all that came before us in the Nationwide Football League Division One during our first two years at the Stadium of Light, our draws in the FA Cup were exclusively away from home.

In the first season it began with a convincing 5-1 win at Rotherham United in the third round, followed by defeat at cup perennial giant-killers Tranmere Rovers in the next round.

The following year in 1998-99 was similar in that we defeated Lincoln City away in the opening round, only to bow out at Premier League opposition at the next stage which came in the form of Brian Kidd’s Blackburn Rovers.

Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Third Round - Sunderland v Portsmouth
Stefan Schwarz and Michael Gray in discussion during Sunderland FA Cup win against Portsmouth back in 1999
Photo by Steve Morton/EMPICS via Getty Images

This was the season we’d eventually claim 105 points on our way to the title and on our day could have given anyone a game, which was proven by our run to the semi-final of the League Cup that year - so to exit against ten-man Blackburn was still a disappointment even though they were in the top flight.

The following year, we were of course entering the third round draw as not only one of the twenty sides plying their trade in the FA Carling Premiership, but by the time the weekend came when the third round ties were due to be played, Peter Reid’s side were sitting 4th in the table.

Only Leeds United, Manchester United and Arsenal sat above the Lads and Liverpool were chasing in 5th, four points behind having played the same games. Once again, we felt like we could give anyone a game and as well as enjoying success in the league, eyes were turning towards a potential cup - especially after an early exit to Wimbledon in the League Cup.

This also resulted in an article in The Guardian the day before this third round tie that provided a tip that backing Sunderland each way at 20/1 to win the FA Cup was a good bet - as long as you backed Arsenal with a tenner at 9/2 to win it outright at the same time.

This was also the year that it could be argued the competition was devalued and lost its shine forever, when Manchester United withdrew from the competition to take part in the World Club Championship in South America.

Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Third Round - Sunderland v Portsmouth
Portsmouth’s Michael Panopoulos gains a red card from referee Neale Barry
Photo by Steve Morton/EMPICS via Getty Images

This meant that United could not defend their title as cup winners after completing the treble the season before and a losing side from the second round would be drawn to go through to take their place in the third round - incidentally, this would end up being Darlington.

This resulted in Peter Reid speaking publicly in the build up to our cup campaign getting underway about the future of the competition with comments such as “don’t wreck the FA Cup” making the headlines.

The draw however, seemed relatively kind, first off it was a home draw for the first time since Gerry Francis brought his Tottenham Hotspur side to Roker in January 1995 for a fourth round tie. Although it ended in a 4-1 defeat, it did however allow us to see Jurgen Klinsmann do his thing up close.

In terms of the opposition, we were drawn against second tier strugglers Portsmouth, who were seemingly in big danger of avoiding relegation. Only 48 hours before the tie, owner Milan Mandaric jetted in from America to assess the situation, and the conclusion was that the way forward meant parting with the services of England World Cup winning hero Alan Ball as manager.

Despite spending almost £4m on strengthening the squad, Pompey had picked up only two points from the previous 24 on offer in Division One and former Arsenal full-back Bob McNab was the man to take charge of their trip to Wearside.

Soccer - AXA FA Cup - Third Round - Sunderland v Portsmouth
Gavin McCann celebrates scoring the only goal of the game
Photo by Steve Morton/EMPICS via Getty Images

On a freezing cold day, it never really appeared that Sunderland would need to get out of second gear to progress to the next round as it took around 25 minutes for Gavin McCann to open the scoring.

With the referee waving play-on for an obvious foul on Niall Quinn, Eric Roy slid in McCann who had made his run in behind from deep and finished calmly to give the Lads a deserved lead.

The away side’s task became even more daunting when Mike Paopoulous received a red card for a second bookable offence when he brought down Stefan Schwarz. Sunderland played with their opposition after that point on, but weren’t able to convert another opportunity to provide breathing space - that led to nervy moments late on.

But progress to the next round we did - the reward was a trip once again to John Aldridge’s Tranmere, which is another typical Sunderland story to tell...

Saturday 11th December, 1999

FA Cup - Third Round

Stadium of Light

Sunderland 1-0 Portsmouth

[McCann 25’ - Panopoulos sent-off 40’]

Sunderland: Sorensen, Makin, Bould, Butler, Gray, Summerbee, McCann, Roy (Thirlwell), Schwarz, Quinn, Phillips Substitutes not used: Marriott, Williams, Craddock, Reddy

Portsmouth: Flahavan, Hiley, Robinson, Cundy, Moore (Crowe), Awford, Panopoulous, Miglioranzi, Bradbury, Whittingham, Vlachos Substitutes not used: Petterson, Igoe, Nightingale

Attendance: 26,535


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