The FA Cup was on display at Sunderland's home ground on Friday, paraded by Bobby Kerr, the little midfield general who lifted the old tin pot for the Wearside club at Wembley 36 years ago.
In the fourth round back in 1973 Kerr and his colleagues had to overcome a Fourth Division Reading side managed by Charlie Hurley, a one-time colossus at the heart of the Sunderland defence. In the fourth round yesterday, Sunderland just happened to face another team managed by one of their old centre-halves.
Not that there was much on show at the Stadium of Light to compare with the good old days of the red and whites and of the once grand competition. Two half-strength Premier League sides played out a pale imitation of an FA Cup tie in front of a less than half full Stadium of Light. It was vacuous stuff and fittingly goalless. At least the romantics on Wearside can still dream of Wembley revisited and Blackburn remain unbeaten under Sam Allardyce, whose one season as a Sunderland player – 1980-81 – was hardly a memorable one.
Between them, Allardyce and Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia made 11 changes to their starting XIs, maintaining the depressing trend of this competition being treated as something of an inconvenience to clubs down in the nether regions of the Premier League. Sbragia had Michael Chopra and David Healy up front, while Allardyce drafted in Roque Santa Cruz as an attacking partner for Benni McCarthy.
It was a member of the Rovers rearguard, though, who came close to striking an early scoring blow, Christopher Samba glancing a header narrowly wide from a right wing corner whipped to the near post by Morten Gamst Pedersen. That third-minute chance apart, it was all very muted – the gaps in the stands matching those on the team-sheets and neither side doing much to set the pulse racing. There was none of the vim and vigour of the lunchtime tie played down the A19 at Hartlepool, and none of the craft either.
Sunderland did spring fleetingly to life midway through the first-half, Healy forcing successive saves from the otherwise unemployed Paul Robinson. The Black Cats also had a borderline shout for a penalty when Ryan Nelsen upended Grant Leadbitter. It was at the other end, though, that the numbing deadlock looked most likely to be broken.
Before half-time, Blackburn spurned two more clear opportunities. Martin Olsson played in Santa Cruz behind the home defence but the Paraguayan's low shot struck the right leg of Sunderland goalkeeper Marton Fulop. Then, in first-half injury time, Pedersen managed to steer a drive past Fulop – only for Pascal Chimbonda to block it on the goal-line.
If anything, the second 45 minutes were worse than the first. Sunderland did get the ball in the Blackburn net, though the referee's assistant was already signalling that Healy was in an offside position before the striker dispatched his shot. Chimbonda also side-footed a shot wide with two minutes remaining – two minutes of regulation time, that was. There were groans all round when the fourth official raised his board to signal four minutes of added time. Still, the highlight had yet to come: the blessed relief of the final whistle.
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: Pedersen