The Giant Killers

Subtitle

 

All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 95

 

Sunderland 1-2 Notts County

Third Round: Saturday January 8th 2011

Stadium of Light, Sunderland

Attendance: 17,582

Scorers: Craig Westcarr {5}, Lee Hughes {75}, Darren Bent {81-pen}

Matt Cardle, the winner of ITV's talent show, X Factor the previous month was topping the charts with 'When we collide', Jack Black was in the title role opposite Emily Blunt at the movies in 'Gulliver's Travels', Politicians began backing a call for all men in the Bristol area to face DNA testing in a bid to find the killer of Jo Yeats the week before Christmas and Jared Loughner opened fire on a constituency meeting held by Congresswoman Gabriellle Gifford in Tucson, Arizona, killing five people and wounding twelve others including the Congresswoman.

Notts County had become something of the enigma of the Football League in a roller coaster ride of emotion for their fans. A Premier League side less than two decades earlier, the club had been able to virtually rebuild their stadium on the sale of two strikers but ended up with crippling debts that took them down to the fourth tier of the League. Then came a new dawn with a headline grabbing Middle Eastern buyout of the club that saw former England Manager, Sven Goran Erikson arrive as a director of Football amid promises that County would be European contenders within a decade. 

When England International, Sol Campbell arrived as the first major signing in this new revolution, the promises being made by County's owners started to look like they may have some substance. Campbell played just a solitary game and quickly left in search of a return to the Premier League and suddenly the dream looked to be in trouble again. A revolving door of managerial changes quickly followed as County somehow managed to keep their concentration on the field to knock Premier League Wigan out of the F A cup and secure promotion to League One in 2010.

The 2011 campaign was a little less traumatic but more stable as County stayed largely in mid table and finally recruited a settled manager in the former Manchester United and England player, Paul Ince.

Although Notts County hadn't quite developed into the star studded team the fans had been promised they had acquired a trio of quality players for Paul Ince to build a team around. Club captain, Jon Thompson was an ex Republic of Ireland International who spent most of his career in the second tier, Jon Harley had been a fringe player in Chelsea's turn of the century side, gaining a cup winner's medal in 2000 as an unused substitute. Although he failed to break into the Chelsea set up, Harley remained a regular in the Premier League throughout the early years of the noughties before gradually dropping down the leagues to Meadow Lane. It was the third of the experienced trio that attracted the greatest attention as something of an example of a fallen hero. Lee Hughes lit up the second tier of English football at West Bromwich Albion in the previous decade, scoring for fun and attracting great attention from the Premier League. A goalless season in the top flight with The Baggies damaged his reputation to a small extent and gave his critics the chance to accuse him of being unable to make the step up to the big time. He never had another chance to prove his doubters wrong though as Hughes was involved in a hit and run car accident in which the driver of the other vehicle was killed. Hughes confessed to the crime and was sent to prison, his career in tatters. Now, having served his sentence, he was having a swansong at County, rebuilding his life and constantly playing in front of the chants of murderer from opposition fans.

The third round of the F A cup would take County to the North East and Sunderland's Stadium of Light to face a side enjoying a great season and on course for their best league finish for over half a Century, sitting, as they were, in sixth place in the Premier League under the guidance of former Manchester United captain Steve Bruce.

As had become the 21st century custom among Premier League managers, Bruce made sweeping changes to his side from that which won at Aston Villa in a league game a few days earlier with seven new faces in the side. In an age of the squad system this was still easily a strong Premier league style line up though as Bruce fielded six full Internationals including former England man, Kieran Richardson won the Premier League with Manchester United while Darren Bent was still a regular in the England squad. There was also a trio of South Americans with Argentinian former International and Copa Libertadores winner, Marcos Angeleri and the Paraguayans, Paulo da Silva and Cristian Riveros, the former of whom had once been part of a Concacaf Champions cup winning side while their final International was the Ghanaian, Asamoyah Gyan, who had been shortlisted for the World Footballer of the Year the previous month.

Manager apathy towards the cup was common practice by 2011 as the prizes within the Premier League were just too big to endanger without making the most of their squad system but it was the reaction of fans in the stands that was being most keenly viewed by pundits as many Premier League teams withdrew cup ties from their season ticket schemes. 

The likes of the Manchester, Merseyside, three top London clubs and Newcastle continued to be able to fill their stadiums without difficulty but the rest of the Premier League clubs found their fanbase more fickle as Sunderland's gate dropped by almost twenty thousand for this game to just 17,000. Amid the vast empty spaces of the Stadium of Light was the well filled corner occupied by the County fans. for them the cup was still a big deal.

The travelling County fans didn't have long to wait for something to sing about as a defensive howler from Sunderland keeper, Simon Mignolet gifted them an opening goal after just five minutes. Craig Westcarr's high hanging cross was meant for the head of Lee Hughes but the striker was easily beaten to the ball by the home side's Belgian keeper who then managed to collide with his own defender, Kieran Richardson. The pair could only watch on as the ball bounced free of the keeper's hands and into the net.

County continued to be good value for their surprise lead, though they also had plenty of defending to do, not least when Adam Reid's  shot fizzed wide just before the half hour.

A little surprisingly The BBC, who had commentators at most venues, chose not to switch their live broadcast to The Stadium of Light at half time, opting instead to stay with the game they had originally felt could result in a shock, even though the visiting Premier League team in that match were winning comfortably.

Not that the County players knew or cared as they continued to keep Sunderland at arms length in the early stages of the second period, while Steve Bruce struck the pose of an increasingly frustrated looking manager on the touchline. With half an hour remaining he had seen enough and brought on Jordan Henderson and Ahmed Elmohamady for Colbeck and Riveros with an instant switch of control of the game. Elmohhamady in particular started putting County on the back foot as Malbranque and Bent both went close to equalising.

Just as it began to look like County might buckle they stunned the few home fans present by doubling their lead when Hughes burst through. His first effort was saved by Mignolet before he got the ball back and steered it through a ruck of players from a narrow angle. 

The few Sunderland faithful began to drift away, already resigned to their fate before Darren Bent gave them a lifeline with a penalty nine minutes from time.

 

Sunderland: 22:Simon Mignolet, 3:Kieran Richardson, 12: Marcos Angeleri {replaced by 2:Phil Bardsley-70}, 14:Paulo da Silva, 29:Anton Ferdinand, 8:Steed Malbranque, 16:Cristian Riveros {replaced by 27:Ahmed Elmohamady-60} 20:Reid, 25:Jack Colback {replaced by 10:Jordan Henderson-60}, 11:Darren Bent, 33:Asamoah Gyan: unused substitutes: Carson, Bramble, Adams, Reed: Manager:Steve Bruce

Notts: 17:Stuart Nelson, 4:Mike Edwards, 6:John Thompson, 12;Krystian Pearce, 26:Jon Harley, 8:Ricky Ravenhill, 10:Neal Bishop, 11:Ben Davies, 22:Alan Judge {replaced by 18:Stephen Hunt-79}, 9:Lee Hughes {replaced by 30:Michael Woods-84}. 20:Craig Westcarr {replaced by 15:Karl Hawley 90 + 3}: unused substitutes: Mitchell, Lee, Sodje, Burgess: Manager: Paul Ince

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