Eight years ago, Gus Poyet’s side headed to Craven Cottage to take on Fulham in an FA Cup Fourth Round replay – with the winners scheduled to take on League One Bradford City, the competition’s lowest-ranked club, in the Fifth Round.
It was roles reversed back in 2015 – we were the Premier League team and Fulham, under the management of future Sunderland assistant boss Kit Symons were 15th in the Championship.
The two clubs had played out a 0-0 draw at the Stadium of Light a week and a half before – the highlight of the game being Jack Rodwell’s red card for his second booking, just after the hour mark.
The teams reconvened at Craven Cottage, with 17-year-old Patrick Roberts named on the home team’s bench. Sunderland were buoyed after a 2-0 home win over Burnley lifted the club to 14th place, and Poyet made four changes to the team – Pantilimon, Johnson, Larsson and Wickham dropping out to be replaced by Mannone, Giaccherini, Alvarez and Fletcher.
Fletcher was a late replacement for Connor Wickham, who picked up an injury in the warm-up. That, combined with a late (surprise, surprise) injury to Jack Rodwell, meant Sunderland named only five subs rather than the permitted seven.
Sunderland’s Premier League quality showed in the opening stages as the lads dominated possession – Fletcher having a goal ruled off for offside – but of course, we were hit with a sucker punch. Hugo Rodellega, who was a thorn in our side on a couple of occasions during his Wigan days, beat Mannone with a shot that cannoned off the crossbar.
It was 1-0 at halftime, and just when it looked like we might be struggling to get back into the game, Fulham keeper Marcus Bettinelli handed us a route back. Literally. He fumbled van Aaanholt’s cross over the line to give the lads a deserved equaliser just after the hour.
With Sunderland in the ascendency, a piece of Sunderland history took place. Arguably, the most expensive goal ever scored... Step forward Ricardo Gabriel Alverez.
Picking up a lovely ball from Giaccherini, Alverez drove into the Fulham box from the inside right position, jinked inside and rifled a left-footer past the keeper. It was a goal of real quality, and it looked as though, after needing a few months to settle in, we might have a genuine talent on our hands.
We probably did, but that was his one and only goal for the club – and, after all of the subsequent shenanigans, probably ended up costing us the thick end of £20m.
Jordi Gomez – an excellent player who surprisingly played fewer than 40 times for the club – sealed the game with a last-minute penalty after sub Danny Graham was brought down, sealing a brilliant opportunity for Sunderland to progress to the latter stages of the competition.
After the game, Poyet said:
I was just thinking how unfair football is because we were the better team by far, we were creating and controlling the ball. We didn’t allow Fulham to play the game they like to play but we conceded a very strange goal.
The equaliser was probably the turning point of the game, but overall we deserved to win. It was a game where we needed to get back to playing a certain way of football.
Overall, I’m pleased. I really enjoyed it. I didn’t say this once this year, but I really enjoyed watching the team.
The next seven games just illustrated how quickly things change in football – from Poyet’s positivity to the debacle at home to Villa, via a FA Cup exit at the hands of Phil Parkinson, we were once more on the lookout for a new manager.