Nothing preventing Sunderland from marching on

The Northern Echo: STARS OF THE SHOW: Lee Cattermole puts in a challenge on Southampton’s Luke Shaw as Andrea Dossena looks on STARS OF THE SHOW: Lee Cattermole puts in a challenge on Southampton’s Luke Shaw as Andrea Dossena looks on

Full-time: Sunderland 1 Southampton 0

GUSTAVO POYET did not want a replay to worry about, nor did he get one. Sunderland have, though, got another fixture to plan for in the shape of a second quarter-final of the season, this time in the FA Cup.

Even by making nine changes, including three South American January recruits, Poyet's magic touch on the knock-out competitions keeps working.

Regardless of what problems he faces in the Premier League, it seems he can do no wrong in the other domestic competitions – and there will not be too many Sunderland fans complaining.

Another cup tie, another victory. Not content with reaching the Capital One Cup final with Manchester City at Wembley on March 2, Sunderland are now in the last-eight of the FA Cup and just one win away from a return to the home of English football.

Whatever happens between now and May in the Premier League, Poyet and his Class of 2014 have already ensured that this season will be remembered on Wearside for years to come.

But the way things are shaping up, it could become even more memorable. No matter what Poyet has tried in the cups, it has paid off.

When Southampton, whose style of play is admired by the Sunderland boss, turned up with many believing the FA Cup could be their route to glory this season, the North-East club had other ideas.

Oscar Ustari stayed strong between the posts to keep a clean sheet in the absence of Vito Mannone. In front of him the performance of Santiago Vergini at the heart of the defence suggested there could be a decent alternative to John O'Shea and Wes Brown after all.

Lee Cattermole displayed his usual tenacity to dictate things in the middle, proving he will not just roll over and allow Liam Bridcutt to take his place off him cheaply.

While Emanuele Giaccerhini looked more like the Italian international Sunderland believed they had signed for £8.6m from Juventus last summer and Fabio Borini got his wish to play up front alongside Ignacio Scocco.

And then there was Craig Gardner. The match-winner. He might not have turned in a man of the match display, but with his shooting power he remains high in Poyet's thinking.

“Craig was one of the first players I talked to when I came here after seeing him training for a few days,” said Poyet. “I said to him ‘we need to find a way to put you close to the edge of the box with the ball at your feet, just to have a shot.

The Northern Echo:
Craig Gardner shapes to fire home what became the decisive goal in the FA Cup fifth round tie at the Stadium of Light

“He has a special shot and he is a great option, especially when you are missing goals and a goal can change your season.”

Gardner, out of contract in the summer, was crucial in the different system fielded by Poyet. With Borini and Scocco starting together up front, Sunderland played a diamond midfield and Gardner was at the top of that.

In the first half he rarely troubled the Saints backline with his presence, but after the restart he clearly listened to the demands placed on him and he often troubled the defence.

And when Scocco's presence on the right of the area led to the ball rolling back to Gardner, the former Aston Villa midfielder's first touch took him beyond Vincent Wanyama.

His second was to power in an unstoppable right-footed drive which crashed in off the underside of the bar, leaving former Sunderland goalkeeper Kelvin Davis with no chance.

Poyet was renowned during his career for such bursting runs from midfield. He said: “Craig gives me an option to do different things. Depending on the system we are playing and who is playing in midfield.

“From my midfielders, he’s the player that can get in the box the most and have those kind of shots. He is putting himself in the frame and he’s going to be important for us.”

When Poyet first took over he indicated a preference to play with two strikers, but the inability of Steven Fletcher and Jozy Altidore to gel meant he stumbled on to the lone front-man system.

Had Ustari not held on to an early effort from James Ward-Prowse, after a lovely move, then things might have been different. Sunderland, though, took control of things after that, even if they only mustered the one goal.

The Northern Echo:
Gus Poyet

The inclusion of Scocco, a signing from Internacional in January, for the first time provided Poyet with encouragement too. The striker got through 68 minutes of English football before Connor Wickham replaced him.

The 28-year-old, who signed a two-year deal, was satisfied with his contribution and has his sights on a cup final spot.

He said: “I enjoyed it, it was a good moment for me. It was important for me to play and build up my fitness.

“I am getting fitter all of the time. I had to show the manager that I am sharp and I am ready. I have had two months without a competitive game, he needed to see that I could play.

“He needed to see that from me, playing 70 minutes has helped me to show the manager what I can do. Like everyone else, I want to play at Wembley.

“I hope I have given myself a chance to be involved. There's a lot of competition, a lot of big players here. I will do everything I can to be involved in that cup final, which is special.”

Whether Scocco retains his place for the trip to Arsenal in the Premier League on Saturday is unclear, but Wickham also hopes to be given a greater role in the remaining months of the campaign.

Wickham is still only 20 and looked more confident when he emerged from the bench against the Saints. He could also have scored.

First he was denied by Davis and then he shot wide when he should have played in one of the unmarked team-mates either side of him.

The Northern Echo:
Fabio Borini takes on Southampton full-back Luke Shaw

Not that it mattered. After England striker Rickie Lambert had somehow turned over Nathaniel Clyne's cross from four yards out, Sunderland had done enough to book a quarter-final spot.

Two trips to Wembley in one year? At this rate, it could be three.

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