MARTIN O’Neill admits he was a relieved man after Sunderland avoided the “lottery” of a penalty shoot-out against their neighbours.
The Black Cats were just seven minutes away from spot-kicks at the Riverside last night before Stephane Sessegnon struck the winner in the dying embers of extra-time.
Middlesbrough did not make life easy for Sunderland by refusing to surrender in the fourth round replay despite Jack Colback handing the visitors a half-time lead with a scorching second goal for the Black Cats.
But Sunderland prevailed without the need for the Tees-Wear derby opponents to face the nerve-shredding tension of penalties, leaving Boro’s players crestfallen at the final whistle.
O’Neill said: “Penalty kicks were a concern because obviously that is a lottery.
“I thought it would go the distance because the two teams were tiring.
“But, from a selfish viewpoint, I’m pleased it didn’t go to penalties.
“I thought they played very well at our place. I know Tony (Mowbray, Boro boss) said he thought that was their best opportunity, but I never saw it like that.
“They had players out through injury - so did we.
“I knew this game was going to be hard and that’s how it turned out.”
O’Neill still felt Sunderland deserved their place in the fifth round despite Boro running them close.
Lukas Jutkiewicz pounced on Michael Turner’s error to cancel out Colback’s opener and both sides then had their chances – Phil Bardsley going closest for Sunderland with an effort from 25-yards which crashed against the outside of the post.
But Sessegnon’s seventh of the season ultimately proved decisive after the Benin international swept the ball home following substitute Connor Wickham’s inability to get a shot away from 12 yards out.
* Full match coverage in today’s Sunderland Echo