Manager Martin O'Neill sees golden touch desert him

MARTIN O’Neill picked a bad time for his golden touch to desert him.

Sunderland AFC manager Martin O'Neill
Sunderland AFC manager Martin O'Neill

MARTIN O’Neill picked a bad time for his golden touch to desert him.

With Wembley beckoning, the luck of the Northern Irishman spectacularly ran out.

With the rusty centre-back he signed on loan in January badly exposed, he made a bold substitution. Within five minutes it had blown up in his face.

Sotirios Krygiakos’ replacement David Vaughan not only gave the ball away, he finished the move off with an own goal.

At 2-0 down in a tie which over two days in two separate cities had looked tighter than a Scotsman at last orders, there seemed no way back for Sunderland.

Throwing on striker Fraizer Campbell for another defender – and his other January signing – seemed a desperate act. These were desperate times. As at Goodison Park for the first game, the atmosphere was everything you would want for an FA Cup tie.

“Bringing the Roar Into the Light” proclaimed the banner in the South West corner and they were not kidding, ear-splitting volume greeting the teams as they emerged from the tunnel.

At the head of the Sunderland line was Lee Cattermole, his shirt tucked into his hitched-up shorts. Since derby day, his only appearances have come in court.

This, though, promised to be just the sort of blood and thunder affair the Teessider so relishes.

Outnumbered in midfield he rose to the occasion, bullying little Leon Osman at every opportunity, his name ringing around the stadium with every tigerish tackle. Roy Keane, who has probably seen more Sunderland FA Cup games since he started working for ITV than when he was a Black Cats employee, would have been impressed.

On his own, though, the captain could not drag his team into the contest.

Seeing there was no soft centre, Everton preferred to go over and around Cattermole, identifying Krygiakos as the weak link. The Greek is well known to followers of Liverpool football after his spell with the city’s other team.

Rusty having only made his Sunderland debut last week, within three minutes he had conceded a soft corner, inadvertently chesting the ball out.

He was fortunate when he failed to deal with a routine long ball later in the first half that Nikica Jelavic’s heavy touch stopped him capitalising.

By then, though, there was no disguising his struggles or Everton’s dominance. The goal came from wide, although Magaye Gueye’s cross was drilled, not floated.

Phil Bardsley was caught between Gueye and Marouane Fellaini, Krygiakos on his heels as Jelavic ran onto the ball.

As Cattermole threw himself in front of Gibson’s 50th-minute shot, it was clear O’Neill needed more than inspiring half-time rhetoric to change the game.

Off came Krygiakos, on came Vaughan, a midfielder able to put his foot on the ball. Of all the people to tee up Everton’s second goal, he was one of the least likely.

Surrendering possession to Fellaini, he diligently chased back. When a swivelling Jelavic could only weakly shoot well wide of the far post, he obligingly netted. Watched by Michael Gray, the fall-guy of Sunderland’s last, thrilling, trip to Wembley Bridge, the latest occupant of Sunderland’s No.3 jersey paid the price in the quest for victory.

On the biggest day – so far – of his Stadium of Light career, O’Neill’s only signings had failed to last the course.

Tempers boiled over as Sunderland took exception to Phil Neville’s body-check on James McClean. Cattermole once again over-stepped the mark in trying to protect his team-mates, opening the floodgates to a host of yellow cards.

When they needed to keep their cool, the Black Cats had lost it.

O’Neill was bouncing up and down on the touchline outraged by Neville’s actions. By that stage there was little else he could do.


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