LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 17: Nicklas Bendtner of Sunderland turns away from Sylvain Distin of Everton during the FA Cup Sixth Round match sponsored by Budweiser between Everton and Sunderland at Goodison Park on March 17, 2012 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
This was due to go out last night but given the events at White Hart Lane I thought it best to hold back and make a few revisions – suddenly the nerves and excitement I felt for the game were put firmly in the shade following Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest on the turf at Tottenham. It is only a game and it didn’t feel right to be getting worked up about it while a player was fighting for his life in hospital. I’m sure you will agree and this report should be viewed in that context.
So after a tight and tense 90 minutes between evenly matched sides, Everton and Sunderland will have to do it all over again at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday week to decide who will make it through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
The celebrations by the Sunderland fans at the end showed who was happier with the result and in did seem boss Martin O’Neil was keen to play for the draw and take the match to a replay. They will undoubtedly begin the game as favourites – just as we did on Saturday – but you can barely slip a piece of paper between the sides so home advantage is by no means a guarantee of success.David Moyes opted to restore the ‘Anfield six’ to the starting line-up, sending out his strongest possible starting XI. He received plenty of stick for those changes for the midweek derby defeat and given we didn’t go on and win this game it may be viewed as a gamble that didn’t pay off.
However, the players have to take some responsibility for a sluggish start that forced them onto the back foot early on.
Sunderland started the game the better side, James McLean looking handy on the left wing and having a early header go over. But it was Everton who should have had a great chance to score from the spot when Royston Drenthe was clearly tripped by Craig Gardner in the area.
It was one of those where Drenthe ‘won’ the pen by drawing in the tackle but it was still a foul. However, referee Andre Marriner, who was only yards from the incident, chose not to award the penalty. It was the first of a series of baffling decisions by the referee – for both sides. He would award a free-kick one minute and show a yellow card, before allowing a similar tackle go a few minutes later. It also seemed that he did not want to be ‘conned’ into giving free-kicks or penalties, meaning unless you were decapitated in the penalty area, it wasn’t going to be given.
Was it karma levelling things up? We did, after all, win a ridiculous penalty in the league fixture at the Stadium of Light on Boxing Day when Leon Osman kicked the turf.
To make things worse for Everton ended up conceding a few minutes later. The Toffees defence, too concious of the threat of Seb Larsson’s deliveries, dropped too deep at a free kick, allowing Sunderland to play it short to Phil Bardsley, who had time and space to drill home a rocket of a shot that flew through a crowd and into the corner of Tim Howard’s net.
The goal did seem to rouse Everton though and they slowly worked their way into the game. The main threat came down the left with Drenthe and Leighton Baines linking up well. But Drenthe was having one of those days where you were never quite sure what he was going to do. On the other flank Seamus Coleman and Phil Neville didn’t have the same chemistry and their attacking play was awkward and clumsy.
It was no surprise therefore that the equaliser came down the left, Baines whipping in across onto the head of Jelavic, the ball then diverted home by Tim Cahill for just his second goal of the season. Goodison came alive again and the game was on.
Distin fired over when well placed while Drenthe saw a fizzing 30 yard free-kick clip the top of the bar as Everton finished the half well on top.
The second half was a bit of a let down in comparison. Sunderland saw little of the ball and had an eye on the replay pretty much from kick-off. To be fair to O’Neill he knows that his side will have a greater chance of winning the replay, plus given our relative lack of creativity, we struggle against sides that sit back and defend – especially at home.
When the likes of City and Chelsea came to Goodison they did their fair share of attacking,allowing us to hit on the break. We weren’t afforded that luxury here.
We also scored first on those games, I’m convinced we would have won the game had we netted first in this one.
We still had a few chances to win it, most notably when Jonny Heitinga rose highest from a free-kick. Simon Mignolet though dived to his right to palm the ball away before showing superb reflexes to block Jelavic’s goal bound effort on the re-bound.
There was a feeling of anti-climax when the whistle went and the fear that this was a chance missed.
However, Sunderland will have to attack more in the second game and as we saw from this encounter, there is very little between the two sides. I get the feeling a moment of genius, a horrific mistake or just plain old lady luck will be the deciding factor in this one.
The game is well and truly on.