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Sunderland v Carlisle United - FA Cup

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On This Day (5 Jan 2014): French midfielder scores on debut as Sunderland win 3rd round tie

Hands up, who remembers El Hadji Ba?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

Signing inexperienced young midfielders may be a key part of the 2023-24 playbook, but Sunderland were doing it a decade ago too – and on this day in 2014 two of them made their debuts for Gus Poyet’s team as the lads eventually saw off Carlisle United 3-1 at the Stadium of Light to progress to the FA Cup Fourth Round.

While Duncan Watmore, a summer signing from non-league Altrincham, impressed with his pace and directness in his 30-minute debut cameo, it was another debutant, El Hadji Ba, who made the headlines.

Alongside Watmore, and Valentin Roberge, Modibo Diakite, Cabral, Jozy Altidore and David Moberg Karlsson, French under-20 international Ba had arrived in the summer from Le Havre, for whom he’d made 12 league appearances, on a three-year deal during the ‘summer of De Fanti’.

Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland - Barclays Asia Trophy: Semi Final
Ba was part of the all-conquering Asian Cup team!
Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

However, in the four or five months that had followed, manager Paolo Di Canio had departed, while De Fanti was only a matter of weeks from leaving the club too – Ellis Short’s ill-fated director of football model would soon be compounded by the arrival of Lee Congerton.

On the field, things weren’t much better on paper, as we were rooted to the bottom of the Premier League. However, new manager Gus Poyet had given us a few reasons for optimism, including a battling Boxing Day win over Everton, and a League Cup quarter final victory over Chelsea, which set up a two-legged semi against Manchester United.

The FA Cup provided another avenue for relief from a tough league campaign, and Poyet named a strong starting XI packed with first-team players. Lee Cattermole, Steven Fletcher, Fabio Borini and Phil Bardsley were the only real regulars to miss out, and all bar Cattermole were on the bench, as were Watmore and Ba.

Soccer - FA Cup - Third Round - Sunderland v Carlisle United - Stadium of Light
The lesser spotted Andrea Dossena in action
Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

The third-round tie against a League One Carlisle team managed by our former midfielder Graham Kavanagh got underway in a predictable fashion, with no evident gap between the teams. However, Sunderland had the first opportunity to go ahead through Jozy Altidore. The American striker had arrived in the summer but struggled for goals, and his lack of confidence was evident with a weak shot straight at goalkeeper Fleming.

The lads did take the lead after half an hour, however, through a quality free kick from Adam Johnson – however any hopes of a straightforward afternoon were quashed when Matty Robson fired in a deserved equaliser shortly before half time.

Five minutes into the second half, however, Sunderland were gifted a goal when O’Hanlon deflected the ball into his own goal, and shortly after that Watmore was introduced to the action.

Sunderland v Carlilse United - FA Cup Third Round
Watmore impressed on debut
Photo by Nigel Roddis Getty Images

The young forward had been talked up in the press, with his electric pace having the potential to frighten defenders, and he immediately impressed with his running and ball carrying – he almost got onto the scoresheet after a neat one-two with Altidore, only for Fleming to produce a good save.

Next to enter the fray was fellow summer signing Ba, who went one better and sealed the victory with Sunderland’s third goal after being played in by Altidore.

Sunderland progressed to the Fourth Round, where we’d face Kidderminster at the Stadium of Light. Ba would start that game; however, he’d only make one further sub appearance before being sold to Charlton in 2015.

Spells at Stabaek, Sochaux, Lens, and Guingamp followed 25 games in South London, and now – aged 30 – Ba is plying his trade for Apollon Limassol in the Cypriot top flight.

Ba tackles Marco Verratti, playing for Sochaux versus PSG in 2018
Photo credit should read SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images


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