Gary Rowell: Sunderland’s replay with Everton could be epic

Gary Rowell, former Sunderland player and now Echo columnist
Gary Rowell, former Sunderland player and now Echo columnist
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I MAKE no apology for turning the majority of this column over to talk of the FA Cup this week.

It’s the thing that everyone is talking about in Sunderland – from the absorbing cup tie at Goodison Park to the mouthwatering replay in prospect on Tuesday.

Goodison Park, for once, was not a graveyard for Sunderland hopes.

Undoubtedly one of the most miserable walks in football for Sunderland fans over the last few decades has been the trudge back from Goodison to the car or the coach.

Believe me, I’ve made it many times.

The only time I was relegated in my Sunderland career was at Goodison Park in 1977 and there have been many weary walks back from the ground to transport since then!

This time, though, was different.

Last weekend, 6,000 Sunderland fans found themselves in the unusual position of arriving at Everton’s ground in good spirits AND leaving it the same way!

Full credit to that goes to Martin O’Neill and his players for giving a performance that fans could be proud of.

I thought the first half was a great cup tie and it was so important that Sunderland started as well as they did.

So much was made before the game about Sunderland’s terrible record there that I suppose there was a faint possibility that nerves could have got to the side.

Instead, the manager chose a very positive team and they played as well as he could have hoped, getting off to a good start and getting a great goal from Phil Bardsley.

When he scored and raced off to celebrate with Sunderland fans in the stand opposite me, I could have sworn I saw the stand rocking!

It was a great atmosphere and, to be honest, when Tim Cahill – how sick of him are we by the way? – equalised, it only improved the atmosphere because both sets of fans really got into it.

The rest of the game didn’t have quite the intensity of that first half, but it was still absorbing stuff and Simon Mignolet’s double save was needed to keep us in the competition right at the death.

I felt it was the least we deserved, though.

A draw was a fair result and it meant Sunderland fans could enjoy their walk back, their drive back, and be able to look forward to what could be a great night on Wearside.

I’m excited already about the replay. Judging by the queues at the Stadium of Light ticket office, I’m far from alone.

What a game to look forward to it is – an FA Cup quarter-final replay under the floodlights on Wearside.

We’ve had some great night matches down the years, none more so than the match voted the finest Sunderland game ever when Manchester City were beaten at Roker Park in the 1973 Cup run.

I was in the Fulwell End with my mates that night and even now, when I talk about it, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

What an experience that was with the noise, the atmosphere and the drama – truly phenomenal. Roker Park at its very best.

Could this game against Everton throw up the prospect of a game on that scale?

In fact, we are further on in the current competition than we were when we played Manchester City.

And Tuesday’s match offers the prospect of a Wembley semi-final at the end of it.

It’s exactly the same for Everton, maybe even more so, seeing as they would earn an all-Merseyside semi-final.

But that only adds extra spice.

It will be a tough game because Everton give nothing away and Sunderland will need to be at their best and meet the challenge head on.

But it could be an epic night – one for the history books.– and one we might be talking about for years to come.