DISAPPOINTED Sunderland boss Peter Reid last night sympathised with 2,000 supporters who made a wasted journey to Selhurst Park.

The Worthington Cup quarter- final against Crystal Palace was called off less than two hours before the scheduled kick-off due to a waterlogged pitch.

The clash has been rearranged for next Tuesday.

And Sunderland will give all fans who travelled to Selhurst Park a free ticket for next month's FA Cup third-round clash against the same opposition on Wearside.

Match referee Alan Wiley, of Staffordshire, made three pitch inspections during the afternoon before having to postpone the fixture at 6pm during torrential rain, which left the pitch holding a lot of surface water.

Sunderland had flown down for the game on Monday and there was no inkling that the match was in danger, despite heavy rain during the day.

When they arrived at Selhurst Park they were told the bad news, and after a brief walk on to the pitch Reid agreed with the referee's decision.

He said: "The referee is in a difficult position and I am not going to argue with him.

"It is disappointing because we were up for the game and we have travelled. The most disappointing thing is that the fans have had to make a wasted journey.

"I should imagine people have taken a day off work and have gone to considerable expense.

"They are the ones you have to feel sorry for. This is our job and we just have to get on with it when things like this happen.

"But for the fans it is an absolute nightmare."

Mr Wiley also felt sorry for the fans, who faced a 600-mile round trip from the North-East, but he stressed that he had been given no opportunity to give them any advance warning.

He explained: "I had no phone call from Crystal Palace to say the match was in any doubt.

"I arrived at the ground at 3.30 this afternoon and carried out a pitch inspection. The ground was firm without any surface water and I certainly didn't envisage any problem.

"I made another inspection at 5pm and there was a little surface water, but it still wasn't a problem and the groundsman was not unduly concerned.

"But when I went out again at 6pm I was sinking into the ground and the water came over my shoes.

"I had no option but to call the game off. The pitch was unplayable."

Wiley added: "I feel really sorry for the Sunderland supporters because I know how far they have had to travel.

"But to have had any chance of preventing them making an unnecessary journey I would have had to make an inspection at midday and at that time the pitch was perfectly playable. But it has not stopped raining since 4 o'clock and the forecast is that it is going to get heavier during the evening and into the early hours of tomorrow.

"I do feel for the people who have travelled but it is just impossible to play the match."

Palace manager Alan Smith also sympathised with the Sunderland fans and felt that notice should have been taken of the weather forecast, which predicted very heavy rain.

"I am not blaming any individual but when I was at our training ground in the morning I felt that the game might not be played.

"I think it would have been better to have made a decision much earlier, taking into account the weather forecast, rather than later. Being professionals we can play the game at any time but it is wrong to ask the fans to make two long journeys."

Smith is also worried that with the game re-arranged for next Tuesday his players face a tough First Division game against Blackburn Rovers three days later.

But he did not disagree with the referee's decision to call the game off. He said: "It would have been farcical to start the game and then have it called off. That would have been an even worse scenario."

A rescheduling for next Tuesday means Sunderland are plunged into a busy fixture programme with six games in 17 days.

l Fans with tickets for last night's game will receive a complimentary ticket for the FA Cup tie between with Palace at the Stadium of Light on January 6.

Further details will be issued by the club.

Tickets for last night's game will be valid for next Tuesday, but anyone unable to attend the rearranged fixture should contact the ticket office for a refund.

Last night's game was due to be screened live by Sky Sports and Palace could lose the television fee if the re-arranged game is not televised.

l Sunderland target Thorstein Helstad is to join Leeds on trial. The striker, who netted 16 goals last season for crack Norwegian outfit Brann Bergen, will play in tomorrow's reserve game against Sheffield Wendesday. Sunderland last month had a £1.5m bid rejected, with the Norwegians looking for around £2.5m