It wasn’t a fun season to follow the Lads.
Nine league games in saw the stuttering Peter Reid era come to a sad end and then there was the left-field choice of Howard Wilkinson as the man to replace him.
This began a run of two wins in 17 league games which all but extinguished any hope of surviving another year in the FA Barclaycard Premiership. As our league form was going so swimmingly, the FA Cup campaign began in the first weekend of January as always - which in this instance meant a trip to Bolton Wanderers.
A 1-1 draw at the Reebok was followed by a 2-0 win after extra time in the replay on home soil to take the Lads through to a 4th round tie with Graeme Souness’ Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.
This produced a bit of an epic 3-3 draw - which you can read all about here - where Wilkinson’s side threw away a lead late on.
Back at the Stadium of Light for the replay, the enthusiasm for the season in general and optimism around progressing to the next round was displayed in the crowd of 15,745.
The previous game was also on home soil and three own goals by the Lads gifted Alan Curbishley’s Charlton Athletic side a 3-1 victory, so it was surprising that Kevin Phillips gave the home side the lead after only ten minutes following good work by Sean Thornton - who was one of the few bright sparks in a bleak season.
Three minutes later it could have got even better, but Phillips was denied a brace when his goal was ruled out for offside after good work by current first team coach Michael Proctor to tee him up.
With Sunderland going into the break, there was a pivotal moment five minutes into the second half when Phillips was once again denied a second goal, this time by the post, and then immediately went up the other end and Garry Flitcroft scored from a David Thompson corner.
But despite the low morale around the club, Sunderland took the game to the visitors and were rewarded with around ten minutes remaining when Gavin McCann fired spectacularly into the top corner.
It was then one-way traffic, with Souness’ side desperate to at least force extra-time, and agonisingly, it came in injury time, when Thompson was once again the provider and Flitcroft once again the scorer by sliding in at the far post to finish.
Extra time came and went without any real incident or goals before the game almost inevitably went to penalties.
Phillips and Kevin Kilbane converted the first two penalties for Sunderland, while Thompson and Andy Cole missed for Blackburn. Jody Craddock then stepped up and missed before Corrado Grabbi had his penalty saved by Thomas Sorensen.
McCann then stepped up to potentially put Sunderland through, which despite Brad Friedel saving the spot kick, it managed to still roll over the line, and against the odds, put Sunderland through to the last 16 of the FA Cup.
Wednesday 5th February, 2003
Fourth Round Replay
Stadium of Light
Sunderland 2-2 Blackburn Rovers
(after extra time - Sunderland won 3-0 on penalties)
[Phillips 10’, McCann 79’ - Flitcroft 50, 90’]
Sunderland: Sorensen, Wright, Craddock, Thome, Gray (Oster), Thornton, McCann, Kilbane, Arca (McCartney), Proctor (Kyle), Phillips Substitutes not used: Norman, Mi. Gray
Blackburn Rovers: Friedel, Neill, McEveley (Douglas), Johansson (Grabbi), Berg, Taylor, Kerimoglu, Flitcroft, Cole, Yorke, Thompson Substitutes not used: Kelly, Jansen