Our FA Cup Third Round tie with Bolton is in the books. Here's what went down at the Reebok today, and what we made of it in our match report.
Not for the first time this season, this really was a game of two halves. After gifting the hosts a 2-0 lead, Sunderland proved that they really aren't a bad side after all. A 2-2 draw takes the game back to the Stadium of Light on Tuesday week, but at least we are in the bag for the 4th-round draw, and the 5,000 travelling fans had something to cheer on their way back to Wearside.
Sunderland got off to a bright enough start, winning the first of nine first half corners, but, as with the rest of them, it came to absolutely nothing.
On 12 minutes, Sunderland were back to doing what they do best this season, and shooting themselves firmly in the foot. Under no pressure whatsoever, Carlos Cuellar, with options all over the field, decided that playing the ball across his area to the unmarked Chung-Yong Lee was a great idea, and with Mignolet out of position while awaiting a competent pass, the Bolton man could sweep it in without any difficulty. Fans at the ground (co of Simon Walsh) could apparently hear Mignolet telling him to hoof it, but he tried to be too clever. It really was typical of how things are going this term.
Although Sunderland huffed and puffed following the goal, there was very little to shout about. James McClean wasted a couple of good opportunities, before Phil Bardsley tried a 'Bardo special', and duly smashed the ball into the stands.
The biggest talking point of the first half for us fans concerned Danny Rose, who pulled up on 20 minutes with what looked like a hamstring injury. Considering how much we missed him against Tottenham recently, that's going to be a real concern for us, and something to keep a keen eye on. Jack Colback was his replacement.
A Craig Gardner header then won us a corner, from which we won another, then another, then another... But Sebastian Larsson's delivery really needed to improve, as none came to anything of note. Sunderland, set pieces aside, were giving the ball away cheaply all over the pitch, but when Jack Colback and David Vaughan actually strung a couple of passes together, Vaughan drew a good save from Bolton keeper Andy Lonegan.
With crosses coming into the box from Bardsley, McClean and Johnson, no-one was getting on the end of them, and they couldn't even be classed as chances, as we never even looked like scoring.
The other things of note in the first half were our two centre backs, Cuellar and Bramble, seemingly having a competition between them to put in the most inept performance. Cuellar gave away the goal, while Bramble staked his claim by colliding with Mignolet and almost gifted Bolton a second, before smashing the ball at his defensive partner from close range and giving the ball away again.
Bolton could have punished the Black Cats toward the end of the 45 minutes, as the hosts broke from a corner - won by more good work by David Vaughan - but Alonso dragged his shot wide after a five-on-four situation had emerged.
There was work, and words, to be done and had at half time.
Unfortunately, things didn't get better quickly at all. With only five minutes on the clock, a short corner found its way into the box. Simon Mignolet got a hand to it to punch it out of the box, but it was headed back into the penalty area, and Marvin Sordell seemed surprised that he was being gifted with the easy chance to nod it into the goal, and make it 2-0 to the Trotters.
Unfortunately for Sunderland, they had found Andy Lonergan in the Bolton goal in inspired form, and he pulled off one of many excellent saves to keep out Steven Fletcher, before the same man had weak shouts for a penalty turned down.
Ten minutes into the second half came the turning point of the game. Carlos Cuellar seemed to injure his hamstring (although some would argue that he'd had enough) and instead of bringing on a like-for-like replacement, O'Neill brought on Connor Wickham in his place, with Bardsley going to centre back, and Gardner filling in at right back, with two up top.
It paid almost instant dividends as David Vaughan and Wickham combined to win the Black Cats a corner, and it was the first time that Sunderland had really made the hosts think during the game. The resulting corner saw another Fletcher header saved by Lonergan, and as the ball bounced around in the area after yet another corner, Wickham was there to crash it through the keeper's legs.
Sunderland finally had the wind in their sails, but had Jack Colback to thank, as he stood firm and robbed Sordell of the ball as he raced through the middle.
With Wickham causing Bolton problems, just as he has at the Reebok in the past, the hosts brought on veteran frontman Kevin Davies, but it would be Sunderland still making all of the attacking play. Gardner had a decent effort saved, Johnson's ball into the box was cleared, and there was a strong shout for handball against Alonso as the ball came into the box and evaded Fletcher.
The equaliser - and I'm not allowed to use certain terminology to describe it, came on 75mins, and was an absolute beauty. Andy Lonergan had kept out yet another Fletcher header, and from the resulting short corner, Johnson's ball found it's way out to Craig Gardner, who unleashed a trademark shot from 25 yards that almost broke the net.
It was another corner that offered Sunderland a chance of a late winner. As Johnson's ball came into the box, Zat Knight deflected it towards his own goal, but Lee was there to clear it off the line.
Still Sunderland pressed, and with only a minute left of injury time, Titus Bramble had the chance to put his woeful performance behind him, but could only head the ball into the side netting, when he should have done better.
So, we'll meet again at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland could have done without an extra fixture, but will be happy to still be in contention after a shocking first half performance, and will expect to have enough quality to put this tie to bed at the second time of asking.
We'll have more reaction from the Reebok today in our Match Stream. You can find that HERE.