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Sunderland stunned by Bolton
SO much for history repeating itself then. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Sunderland's fabled FA Cup final victory over Leeds United, but there will be no emotional repeat of the Wembley success after the club's current crop of players succumbed to a tame third-round replay defeat to Bolton.
Marvin Sordell's second-half double ensured Sunderland have now crashed out of both of this season's cup competitions to Championship opposition, and the Black Cats could have few complaints about their fate.
Having required a two-goal comeback at the Reebok Stadium just to force a replay, Martin O'Neill's side were unable to make their first-half dominance in last night's encounter count.
Bolton's increased adventure after the break was duly rewarded, and Sunderland's sole focus in the remaining four months of the season will be to cement their Premier League status. They should do it with plenty to spare, but this already looks like being another campaign of missed opportunities.
Unlike a number of his contemporaries in the top-flight, O'Neill has never downplayed the importance of the cup competitions or selected a weakened team. Unfortunately, however, his players keep on letting him down. Despite last weekend's emphatic win over West Ham, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that some of them are simply not good enough.
Plenty disappointed last night, most notably Jack Colback, who conceded the penalty that enabled Sordell to open the scoring and was beaten much too easily in the build-up to the striker's second goal, and Connor Wickham, who struggled as he was awarded a rare senior start.
O'Neill has shied away from starting with the England Under-21 international, and last night's game will have done little to prompt a change of approach once Steven Fletcher returns.
In fairness, Wickham was far from the only Sunderland player to appear off key. O'Neill had highlighted the importance of his side's bright start in Saturday's 3-0 win over West Ham, but there was no repeat three days on as the Wearsiders laboured their way through proceedings.
With a sparse crowd and the freezing temperatures mitigating against much of an atmosphere, there was a lack of urgency about both sides' early efforts. It was the 18th minute before either team attempted an effort at goal.
It was hardly a threatening attempt, with Craig Gardner drilling harmlessly over the crossbar, but at least it signalled Sunderland's strengthening grip on the game.
James McClean drilled narrowly wide shortly after, and within three minutes, Adam Johnson had forced Andy Lonergan into his first save. The Bolton keeper had been his side's best player at the Reebok Stadium, and he displayed adroit reflexes again as he tipped Johnson's rising drive over the crossbar.
That proved a rare intervention from Lonergan though, with the hosts failing to convert their superiority in terms of possession into clear-cut openings.
With Stephane Sessegnon enduring one of his quieter games, Wickham was isolated for long periods, with neither Johnson nor McClean offering much in the way of quality delivery from wide positions.
Bolton's attacking threat was non-existent early on, with Dougie Freedman's five-man midfield content to prioritise containment over creativity.
Simon Mignolet barely touched the ball before the break, yet the visitors will have been content with their efforts with Darren Pratley and Jay Spearing working tigerishly to deny Sunderland's midfielders any space.
Lonergan turned Johnson's free-kick around the upright five minutes before the break, before Titus Bramble side-footed wide and Wickham directed his header from McClean's cross straight at the goalkeeper.
For most of the night, Sunderland's best chance of a breakthrough came from set-pieces, with Gardner's prowess causing problems whenever he was given an opportunity to take aim.
The former Birmingham midfielder has rediscovered his scoring touch in recent weeks, scoring three goals in the space of 11 matches, and he could hardly have come any closer with a 49th-minute free-kick that whistled past the post from 30 yards.
Had his effort gone in, Sunderland would surely have seen things out. As it was though, the opportunity was to be as good as things got for the hosts.
Whereas Bolton's attacking ambition had been impossible to discern before the interval, the visitors threw greater numbers forward from the start of the second half and the complexion of the evening changed instantly as a result.
Sunderland might have fallen behind in the 54th minute when Mignolet's weak clearance was intercepted by Jay Spearing, who nodded the ball into the path of Sordell. The striker, who scored Bolton's second goal in the original tie, found himself clean through on goal, but Mignolet redeemed himself by saving with his legs.
Ten minutes later though, and Mignolet was powerless to prevent the visitors taking the lead from the spot.
Colback was penalised for a rash sliding challenge on Darren Pratley, and while he appeared to take some of the ball, there was no need for the stand-in left-back to go to ground so frantically. Sordell steadied himself, and drilled a powerful shot down the centre of the goal.
That was bad enough, but worse was to follow 16 minutes from time as Bolton doubled their lead in the face of some desultory Sunderland defending.
Colback allowed full-back Tyrone Mears to run beyond him, Matt Kilgallon failed to cut out the defender's cross, and Sordell was granted the freedom of the penalty area as he swivelled to prod a low shot beyond Mignolet.