Fraizer Campbell was back on the pitch today, and back among the goals.
Honours even at the Stadium Of Light this afternoon as Fraizer Campbell's goal on his return from injury ensured we get to do it all again on Tuesday February 7th.
On the balance of play it seemed about the right result with what I'd consider both teams winning a half each. Of course, things all could have been different had the referee and linesman not got themselves in a muddle during the first half, but still, one's each seems about right.
For our recap of how things went, comment on that debatable decision and more, continue reading as we go over things again...
Martin O'Neill only made two changes from the team which beat Swansea 2-0, and both of those enforced through injuries. Lee Cattermole, who'll have been gutted to have missed this one, was replaced be the free-scoring Craig Gardner whilst Nicklas Bendtner's broken face saw him replaced by Connor Wickham, just as happened on Saturday gone. Big news on the bench was that Fraizer Campbell finally made his return to matchday squad.
For all the build-up and bluster pre-match, the opening ten minutes was a lacklustre affair. With neither team particularly able to gain a meaningful foothold in the game, we were restricted to a wayward Seb Larsson header, whilst Scott McDonald for the visitors could only send a soft half-volley down the throat of Simon Mignolet.
Things did manage to pick up however, and nearly opened the scoring in as scrappy a manner as the game had been played. David Vaughan's corner was headed by Bates on to the back of Haroun, only for the ball so sail over the top. Moments later following a Sessegnon run and foul, Vaughan sent a free-kick narrowly over. Just as things seemed to be moving in our favour, 'Boro took the lead...
Barry Robson it was with the strike, and quite a strike it was. Faris Haroun's cross was never truly cleared by John O'Shea, and when it did eventually drop out of the air, Robson caught it on the volley from all of 12 yards into the bottom corner. Painful as it is to say, quite a good goal, Mignolet had no chance.
After seemingly coasting and not really taking charge of things we needed a kick up the backside, and it seemed to come, for a short spell anyway. Craig Gardner's dipping volley went over the bar following nice work from Sessegnon to set him up. McClean burst through the 'Boro back line, only for Coyne to repel, moments later the same happened again, albeit fromt he head of McClean following Larsson's teasing ball in. That was about as good as things got for a solid ten minutes post-opening goal.
Controversy came with five minutes to half time. Craig Gardner had the ball in the net, and everything seemed fine until the linesman's flag was raised on the far side. Now then, Gardner handled it on the way to putting the ball in the bottom corner left-footed, however following discussions between the officials, offside against Wickham was given. Wickham was in an offside position, but didn't touch it, nor was he interfering with play as no attempt was made to play the ball. I suppose you could say the goal was correctly disallowed, but for all the wrong reasons.
Things seemed to kick off. Suddenly this was a cup tie. Bardsley charged into the area to little avail, Justin Hoyte was lucky to stay on the pitch following a horrible tackle on Stephane Sessegnon, meanwhile Lukas Jutkiewicz should have made it 2-0 following Mignolet's parry.
And so it was 1-0 at half-time and surely there was plenty to ponder for O'Neill. At this stage the game could just as much have been 1-1 or 0-2. Boo's rung out at half-time, mainly directed towards the officials you'd think, as despite the slow start and scoreline, there was something to work with for the second period.
A half-time change saw Fraizer Campbell make his first appearance of the season in place of Connor Wickham. Wickham did pick up a knock in the first half and spent a good five minute hobbling, but was also largely ineffectual.
The half kicked off right where we left off. Marvin Emnes flashed a shot wide of the goal whilst a potentially dangerous free-kick for us was high, wide and handsome from Craig Gardner. Still, the tenacity and bite was there which ended things 15 minutes earlier.
Middlesborough had some chances, Robson notably with a curling free-kick, but then on sixty minutes, cometh the hour, cometh the man. Following another free-kick for the visitors, we broke at speed, as has been the case all throughout the O'Neill era to date. McClean intercepted a misplaced pass and broke, laid in to an inch perfect ball and there was the returning Fraizer Campbell to pass the ball into the corner from just inside the area. A dream moment for Campbell, and a very timely goal.
From then on, barring the moment when Phil Bardsley nearly turned the ball into his own net it seemed to be all Sunderland. James McClean was getting the better of Tony McMahon regularly having spent most the first half in his back pocket, but certainly it was Campbell who was providing all the threat. Long balls into Wickham were meat and drink to to Hines and Bates in the first half, but Campbell's pace and movement provided them with much more to think about. With an extra yard of pace or match practice he might have got on the end of a Sessegnon through-ball, and another occasion forced Coyne into a save from a looping header.
Hugely important moment with ten minutes to go as Seb Larsson nicked the ball away from Jutkiewicz who was certain to score from six yards out. At the other end, McClean sent in ball after ball to test the visitors defence but unfortunately couldn't find anyone to finish the chances as the full-time whistle loomed. He even tried his luck himself in injury time, but could only find the side netting.
Team (Ratings in brackets)
Starting XI: Mignolet (6), Bardsley (6), O'Shea (6), Brown (6), Richardson (6), Larsson (6), Gardner (6), Vaughan (6), McClean (7), Sessegnon (6), Wickham (5)
Subs Used: Campbell (7), Turner (6), Colback (6)
Man Of The Match: James McClean - It could just as well have been Campbell for his second half impact, but for having the drive and determination to put a forgettable first half behind him, I'm going to give it to McClean. Nearly everything decent in the second period came through the young Irishman. Outside of those two though it was hard to find anyone who really stood out above all others.
Things seemed a little off today. There didn't seem to be as much zip about the play, perhaps there was an expectancy that we'd win but things didn't seem right, certainly in the first half anyway.
It was perhaps one of the first tests of O'Neill in the fact that for the first time in a while things were not going our way, and a bit of a rocket up the jacksie was needed. Sure enough it came, and things were much better in the second half.
Aside from the fightback, perhaps the most encouraging thing was the return of Fraizer Campbell. Campbell seemed to come through things fine, looked sharp throughout and caused problems for the 'Boro defence all day.
Certainly he gives us another option in attack, but don't be surprised if we add to the striking roster in the next few days just in case of emergency.
After we duke it out at the Riverside a week on Tuesaday, a potential clash with either Arsenal or Aston Villa at home in the fifth round. A potentially difficult game, but by no means an impossible one. That's the only thoughts I'll offer on it though, we've got to overcome 'Boro again first.
Keep The Faith.