It wasn't pretty, but Sunderland survived a marathon against Middlesbrough, and now have back-to-back matches against Arsenal coming up over the next two weekends.
Sunderland defeated Middlesbrough 2-1 at The Riverside Stadium in an FA Cup Replay on Wednesday. A running match commentary can be found here.
The first 41 minutes: Wasn't poor football as much as it was a bit ugly. Both teams did well to create openings in the attacking thirds of the field, but neither side really tested either goalkeeper all that much. Sunderland appeared the better side at the start, but every attempt on goal was struck directly at 'keeper Jason Steele. Middlesbrough weren't any better, however, as they struggled to even hit the target. The Premier League side did well to grab hold of the match's tempo near the end of the opening 45 minutes, and they eventually took a 1-0 advantage into the halftime break.
The opening goal: Was a result of some brilliance from the visitors in the 42nd minute. An over the top ball was headed downward by Fraizer Campbell directly to teammate Jack Colback, who played the ball off his chest before sending a left-footed strike into the top left corner of the net. There was nothing Steele could do with the shot, as it hit the bottom of the crossbar before going over the line.
The goal seemed to be the wake-up call the hosts needed. Middlesbrough nearly found an equalizer on two separate occasions before the halftime whistle, but it wasn't meant to be. These attacks were, however, signs that Middlesbrough weren't simply going to surrender because of a one-goal disadvantage.
The equalizer: Came 12 minutes into the second half. A long ball played into the penalty area was headed toward Lukas Jutkiewicz by Curtis Main. Sunderland's Michael Turner misplayed the ball badly, allowing Jutkiewicz to have an open shot on goal. The Middlesbrough man didn't waste the opportunity, burying a strike into the left portion of the net.
Fatigue slowly but surely wore down the second division side, and Sunderland nearly found a winner in the 72nd minute. Phillip Bardsley had a go from outside the right portion of the penalty area, and his strike beat the 'keeper. It ricocheted harmlessly off the left post, however, and Middlesbrough did well to clear the danger. Middlesbrough did manage to put together a few dangerous sequences in the final ten minutes, but they just couldn't find that vital final touch in the penalty area. It seemed clear, heading into extra-time, that Sunderland were more likely to close out the contest before penalties were required.
The winner: Came just eight minutes before the conclusion of extra-time. The Middlesbrough back line made a mess of a 2-on-4 situation, and Stephane Sessegnon was given far too much space to fire off a shot from the center of the box. His strike beat the outstretched arms of the 'keeper, who was just a half-second too late to stop the ball from heading into the left corner of the net. Sunderland, truly the better overall side on the evening, had earned themselves the match winner and a date with the Gunners.
What it means: Sunderland host Arsenal in a Fifth Round FA Cup contest on February 18. Ironically, they'll also host Arsenal this coming Saturday in a league contest.
Overall: Neither side were flawless, but that didn't take away from the entertainment value of the contest. FOX Soccer is scheduled to replay the match at 8:00 pm ET. I recommend checking it out if you have nothing else to watch this Wednesday evening.