Chris Young’s big-match verdict: Stephane Sessegnon’s return is key to Sunderland’s progress in the cup

Stephane Sessegnon.
Stephane Sessegnon.
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THE FA Cup final has enjoyed countless Kodak moments which continue to be churned out year-on-year.

Jimmy Montgomery’s double save, Ricky Villa’s slalom run through the Manchester City defence and Keith Houchen’s diving header – all of which will inevitably be re-run with an Adrian Chiles over-dub come May.

But the Wembley showcase has never been graced by a Benin international and Stephane Sessegnon now has a shot at redemption to become the first of his countrymen to do so.

Sessegnon’s role as the potential difference-maker in a tie between two sides so evenly matched cannot be under-estimated, particularly after the 27-year-old thought his chance of influencing the quarter-final had gone when the red mist descended on Tyneside.

This is the type of game where Sunderland need their top scorer and most elusive attacker more than any other.

If Sunderland versus Everton was a boxing match, only the most optimistic would place their shillings on a knock-out blow. It’s a tussle destined for a points decision.

A cigarette paper would be too bulky to separate the duo – both side-by-side in the Premier League table on 40 points, both adopting a similar style of defending resolutely and hitting opponents on the counter-attack, and both typically taking a share of the spoils in their previous two meetings this season.

In such a tie, the victors need a maverick who can produce the cliched piece of magic or pressurise the opposition sufficiently into a mistake. Sessegnon is that man.

Think back to Boxing Day when the former PSG man tormented the usually-unflappable Sylvain Distin, a defender who looked so effortlessly assured when faced with Fraizer Campbell 10 days ago.

What’s more, Sessegnon is hungry to make up for lost time and certainly proved what Sunderland had been missing during his three-game suspension against QPR on Saturday.

One individual should rarely be singled out as being critical to a side’s hopes, but Sessegnon is of such quality and so important to Sunderland’s style of play, that he needs to ignite a packed Stadium of Light tonight.

There are certainly other threats, most notably James McClean after arguably the left winger’s brightest display in a Sunderland shirt at the weekend.

But given he is up against the wily Phil Neville, who handed McClean astutely at Goodison after a jittery opening 20 minutes, the 22-year-old won’t be allocated the same space as he was against QPR.

Sunderland need to provide Sessegnon with a platform to showcase the twists, turns and spurts of pace which has put every top six scout on red-alert, and that leads to an intriguing selection dilemma for Martin O’Neill.

The one change at the back takes care of itself with Phil Bardsley off his sick bed to replace the crocked John O’Shea at right-back, even if Sunderland would have benefited from the Irishman’s role as central defensive lynchpin.

But in midfield, O’Neill must pick three names from five, with Lee Cattermole back from suspension and Seb Larsson ditching the pipe and slippers after a well-earned breather on Saturday.

Cattermole looks a shoe-in to return, given his contribution under O’Neill, while Larsson will continue to hold an ace card through his deadball contribution.

Deciding between the passing range of David Vaughan, the shooting ability of Craig Gardner and the blossoming Jack Colback, doesn’t provide an obvious answer and O’Neill faces a testing period of deliberation before naming his team just after 6pm.

Opposite number David Moyes has a couple of tie breakers of his own, with fit-again duo Phil Jagielka and Darron Gibson both getting minutes under their belt at Swansea.

Like the Premier League encounter with Liverpool prior to the first match with Sunderland, Moyes shuffled his pack in anticipation of the cup game.

But he will be expected to revert to a side not too dissimilar to the one that drew 1-1 with the Black Cats at Goodison.

A repeat of that scoreline by the final whistle tonight will not shock anybody.

Anyone tuning into ITV to watch the ITN News followed by a repeat of Benidorm will be in for a nasty surprise, because this is a tie that seems destined for extra time and potentially penalties.

When proceedings are that finely-balanced and so consumed by sweaty-palmed tension, a hero is needed and he may just come from the tiny African country becoming increasingly well-publicised on Wearside.

Verdict: Home win

(after extra-time)