SUNDERLAND completed a great week in the domestic knock-out competitions today by reaching the last 16 of the FA Cup, four days after securing a place in the Capital One Cup final
The victory over Conference side Kidderminster came courtesy of Charis Mavrias’s fifth minute goal – the Greek coolly slotting home after being gifted the ball by Harriers defender Josh Gowling.
It was a game in which Sunderland were almost entirely dominant from first minute to last.
And even had new Black Cats’ goalkeeper Oscar Ustari not distinguished himself with a great early save when striker Michael Gash was favourite to score, you would still have fancied Sunderland to win.
Sadly, the Wearsiders’ possession and approach work were not matched by their finishing.
The squandered a host of chances, in the first half especially, and that meant the Harriers were still in the game late on, when they might have embarrassed the Premier League side had they been able to take either of the two decent opportunities to equalise that came their way.
As expected, Poyet rung the changes for the tie – all but Lee Cattermole from the heroic starting XI in the Capital One Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester United on Wednesday being rested – although Ki Sung-Yueng, Jack Colback, John O’Shea and Fabio Borini were on the bench.
New Argentine signings Oscar Ustari and Santiago Vergini were given their debuts, while there was a first start for youngster El-Hadji Ba. Greek winger Charis Mavrias was also given his chance.
There were still full internationals in the side, though, like Emanuele Giaccherini, Jozy Altidore and Seb Larsson.and the team looked as though it had more than enough to cope with the Conference Premier side’s threat.
Kidderminster arrived having overcome Bradford Park Avenue, Sutton United, Newport County and Peterborough United in previous rounds and were boosted when skipper Kyle Storer was passed fit to play.
From kick-off, though, Andy Thorn’s Harriers were under massive pressure as the home players took Poyet’s pre-match demand that they start the game well, to heart.
The Black Cats could have gone ahead as early as the first minute when ful-back Ondrej Celustka, on the right, steered the ball across the six-yard box and Altidore, at the near post, just failed to turn the ball in.
It was not an isolated incident.
Two Sunderland corners followed in quick succession and Ba saw a shot from left of goal blocked in the third minute.
Giaccherini then had a shot blocked before Sunderland took a fifth-minute lead when Harriers’ defence crumbled under the constant pressure with centre-half Josh Gowling panicked into a mistake.
Inside the 18-yard box, the defender hurried a clearance straight to the feet of MAVRIAS on the left of goal and the former Panathinaikos winger calmly lifted his shot across the keeper and into the far corner for his first goal in Sunderland colours.
More pressure followed from the home side and yet Kidderminster could have levelled with their first real attack of the game in the ninth minute.
They were helped by a mistake from Giaccherini, who passed back into the danger area, the ball eluding Cattermole and going straight to the feet of striker Michael Gash.
Suddenly, Kidderminster were in on goal, but debtuant goalkeeper Ustari produced a superb block to the striker’s close-range shot and then pounced on the ball as it threatened to squirm over the line.
It was a timely warning to Sunderland that the Conference side were not just here to make up the numbers and the Wearsiders got back to the job in hand.
They enjoyed near total domination in the minutes that followed, but, unfortunately, their finishing did not match their approach work.
Larsson blazed over from a narrow angle in the 13th minute, while Mavrias, Celustka and Giaccherini were similarly wayward in the minutes that followed.
Giaccherini and even Cattermole did force saves in in the midst of the misses, but Sunderland really could have done with a second goal to put the tie beyond Harriers’ reach.
By the half-hour, the visitors had offered little.
Many of their 4,000-strong travelling support had still been making their way into their seats when Kidderminster had fallen behind and, apart from Gash’s shot, there was only one other effort on goal, Jack Byrne’s 18th-minute shot from distance which drifted wide of the target.
They improved after the half-hour mark, probably encouraged by Sunderland’s weakness in front of goal, and a free-kick lifted into the home area in the 33rd minute from the left could have gone anywhere before it was cleared.
Having started like a train, Sunderland lost their way in the last quarter-of-the-hour of the first half, too often going for the Hollywood pass or shot.
Giaccherini and Roberge missed out with shots as Sunderland’s play threatened to become ragged at times.
And although the Wearsiders remained well on top, Poyet would have wanted a more clinical performance in the second half.
HT: Sunderland 1 Kidderminster 0
The home team threatened to start the second half almost as well as the first, with Ba having a good chance in front of goal in the 46th minute, but his effort lacked power and was easily dealt with by keeper Danny Lewis.
The young Sunderland midfielder was booked in the 50th minute for a clash of heads with Amari Morgan-Smith as they jumped for a ball
And 10 minutes after the resumption, Sunderland were in danger of drifting again.
Encouraged, Kidderminster’s fans began to find their voices, although they struggled to make themselves heard over the increasing frustration of the home support.
With the game drifting, Vergini made everyone sit up in the 59th minute with a vicious long-range shot which keeper Lewis palmed down.
Ba got sight of goal in the 64th minute after the visitors failed to clear their lines, but he lifted his shot a couple of yards over the top.
Storer was booked for a reckless lunge on Roberge, but, with Sunderland having failed to convince thus far in the second half, Poyet made a double substitution in the 65th minute with Borini and Craig Gardner replacing Giaccherini and Ba.
Kidderminster replied a minute later by bringing on Fred Ladapo and Callum Gittings for Morgan-Smith and Marvin Johnson.
Cattermole had lashed a long-range shot wide before the changes, Borini did so immediately afterwards as Sunderland looked to up their game.
Cattermole, though, had to be subbed in the 72nd minute after taking a whack to the back of his ankle minutes earlier and he was replaced by Colback.
It remained, though, a game of little incident, Sunderland enjoying great possession but unable to do anything with it.
The final 10 minutes got under way with the Black Cats winning a free-kick on the right of goal, but Larsson’s delivery was headed over by Celustka.
Kidderminster made their last change of the game in the 82nd minute when Jack Dyer was replaced by Santiago Aloi, but Sunderland’s control of the game remained almost total.
Three crosses were put into the Kidderminster box in quick succession and repelled before Jack Byrne headed out for a corner in the 84th minute.
But once again the Black Cats’ failed to make the most of the opportunity and full-back Danny Jackman threatened to embarrass Sunderland with a powerful 86th-minute shot which went wide of the target.
And then after a misunderstanding between Borini and Altidore allowed the visitors to counter-attack, and Fred Ladapo drove a low shot from the right inches wide of the far post.
The last thing Sunderland needed at this stage of their campaign was a draw and a replay.
A surprising four minutes were added on at the end of the 90 and Sunderland might have put it beyond doubt and put a gloss on the scoreline in the 92nd minute when Altidore squared to Borini from the right and the Italian smashed a shot on goal, but defender Lee Vaughan got in a magnificent block.
Kidderminster won a free-kick two minutes later which Storer put into the box, but keeper Ustari took the ball down and Sunderland were through to the last 16.
FT: Sunderland 1 Kidderminster 0
Sunderland (4-1-4-1): 32 Ustari, 12 Celustka, 27 Vergini, 21 Diakite, 29 Roberge, 33 Cattermole (sub Colback 72), 7 Larsson, 23 Giaccherini (sub Borini 66), 22 Ba (sub Gardner 66), 35 Mavrias, 17 Altidore. Subs: Pickford, O’Shea, Ki, Watmore.
Kidderminster Harriers (4-2-3-1): 1 Lewis, 2 Vaughan, 3 Demetriou, 4 Storer, 7 Byrne, 11 Johnson (sub Gittings 68), 16 Jackman, 22 Morgan-Smith (sub Ladapo 68), 26 Dyer (sub Aloi 82) ,30 Gowling, 9 Gash. Subs: Dunkley, Malbon, Angus, Vaughan.
Booked: Mavrias (Sunderland) 45, Ba (Sunderland) 50, Storer (Kidderminster) 64.
Ref: Roger East (Wilts) Att: 25,081.
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