THE FA Cup, RIP (1872-2003). It had been unwell for some time, but its demise was confirmed at a deserted Reebok Stadium on Saturday.

Of course, reports of its death may be greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.

But the hardy 10,123 souls present at the Reebok did not witness any FA Cup magic; it was more like FA Cup tragic.

Howard Wilkinson should be absolved from blame for the miserable spectacle, having been forced to field such a depleted team.

The selection of Kevin Kyle ahead of Tore Andre Flo was the only Wilkinson decision that could be queried.

And Murphy's Law dictated that right-backs Stephen Wright (hamstring) and Mark Rossiter (knee) should get injured, adding to Sunderland's casualty list.

But after making a mockery of the Worthington Cup in the last 16 months, Sam Allardyce showed his complete contempt for its big brother.

He made nine changes from the team that started their last Premiership game, against Aston Villa on New Year's Day.

So while other parts of the country were affected with FA Cup fever this weekend, in Bolton they had found the perfect antidote.

Wilkinson said: "I don't know what winning the FA Cup is worth, but I know it's nowhere near what staying in the Premier League is worth.

"What you saw today was what I had available. There was very little left at home. I would like to have been able to rest people but I couldn't do that.

"I lost two players in this match, and that could be a big blow come next Saturday when we've got an important Premier League game.

"It's just the world we're in, and I don't know what we can do about the FA Cup."

Allardyce, to his credit, did not make excuses for his team selection. He wants to stay in the Premiership, and he cares little for the Cup.

The Bolton manager said: "We have to think about finance, unfortunately. Instead of dreams, it's finance that dictates our priorities.

"It boils down to us receiving £15m for being in the Premiership - or £1m if we're in the First Division.

"Howard Wilkinson ended up losing Stephen Wright, and then the sub got injured. He's counting the cost of the game, but I didn't really put myself in that position. The only main players I put at risk of getting injured were Ivan Campo, Michael Ricketts and Anthony Barness, and luckily we got away with it."

Sunderland could have been down and effectively out by half-time after Ricketts passed up a hat-trick of presentable chances.

He did convert one opportunity, heading home Jeff Smith's left-wing corner as Sunderland's defence went AWOL.

Delroy Facey also hit the crossbar and was foiled by Jurgen Macho when he sprinted through as Sunderland's makeshift side clung on for dear life.

But the visitors were a different proposition in the second half, and Kevin Phillips might have won a penalty when his heels were clipped by Barness 27 seconds after the interval.

Phillips, who had been denied by Kevin Poole when the score was 0-0, got his revenge when his smart back header from John Oster's cross looped into the net.

Phillips had a glorious opportunity to win the game ten minutes from time, but he blazed horribly wide after Barness's error allowed him to race through.

Macho then ensured there would be no repeat of Sunderland's last three League games, when they conceded late winning goals, as he denied Jay Jay Okocha and Facey in stoppage time.

Wilkinson said: "It was a good cross and a terrific header for the goal. It was as good a near-post header as you'll see in this round of the Cup.

"Kevin was skipper here and at Manchester United, and he played like a captain on both occasions. I don't think there's any question about Kevin Phillips as far as I'm concerned and there never has been.

"He's had some long lay-offs, but since we got him fully fit he's been terrific. It would have been nice to have won; it would have saved us another game.

"We showed a lot of character, determination and grit, and gave a good performance in the second half to get the draw we deserved.

"Mark Rossiter has got knee ligament damage and I'd be surprised if he's not out for at least three weeks.

"Gavin McCann was ill again overnight, so we sent him home before the game, and it's rather fateful that it was two right-backs that got injured."

Result: Bolton Wanderers 1 Sunderland 1.

Read more about Sunderland here.