Sunderland 1 Birmingham City 1

Last updated : 14 February 2004 By Footymad Previewer

Bob Stokoe would have been proud of Sunderland's battling performance in holding Birmingham City to a draw in the fifth round of the FA Cup at the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland fans paid tribute to the memory of Stokoe, who led the club to victory in the 1973 final against Leeds United when very much the underdogs, and took the opportunity to watch a film tribute on the concourse television screens throughout the match.

Black Cats boss Mick McCarthy has made no bones about where his priorities lie, an immediate return to the Premiership is way ahead of another possible memorable cup run, even if it goes all the way to the final.

A replay at St Andrew's on Wednesday week was the worst possible scenario as Sunderland lost more ground in the chase for promotion, but the near 25,000 crowd were close to witnessing another cup upset despite the Blues taking the lead through a top-class finish from Mikael Forssell.

The Finland international brushed aside Gary Breen, after Stan Lazaridis and Clinton Morrison linked up on the left, to close in and beat goalkeeper Mart Poom with a clinical finish.

Morrison should have given Steve Bruce's side valuable breathing space five minutes later when he latched on to a throughball from Bryan Hughes but, with only Poom to beat, the Republic of Ireland international pulled his shot across the face of goal.

The miss was to prove costly. Sunderland attacked down the left and skipper George McCartney found Marcus Stewart, who centred for Kevin Kyle to equalise with a deft header.

There was no let up from either side in their attempts to find a winner but as the tempo increased in the closing stages, Birmingham substitute Aliou Cisse was sent off for two bookable offences.

Cisse replaced a subdued Robbie Savage after 81 minutes, but four minutes later he picked up his first caution for dissent and as the tie moved into added time, his crude challenge on Man of the Match Julio Arca left referee Graham Barber with no option but to produce the red card.

Bruce did not dispute Barber's decision and was just grateful that his side still had the chance to reach the last eight after producing a well below par performance.

"I have no complaints over the sending off,'' he said. "I don't know what he has been doing in the African Nations Cup but he looked up for it. I had no complaints when he was booked for dissent and it was a reckless challenge.

"However, I would expect us to play better than that. But we had five or six players who played below par. We needed a bit of inspiration and got it from Forssell, I don't think there will be a better goal scored in this round of the Cup.

"I'm just delighted that we have got them back at St Andrew's in ten days' time. We have got to be grateful that we are still in the Cup and I am looking forward to Monday's draw. We have given ourselves a chance.''

Sunderland piled on the pressure in the early stages with the hard-working Jeff Whitley firing weakly wide, while Jason McAteer had a powerful drive blocked and Stewart twice worked his way to the byline only to fail to deliver penetrating crosses.

Birmingham responded with a slick passing move involving Savage, Bryan Hughes and Forssell, who forced Poom into a point-blank save.

Poom came to the rescue shortly half time when he turned a fierce 25-yard drive from Savage over the bar in style, but on the resumption only the woodwork denied Stephen Wright from giving the home side the lead.

John Oster linked up with McAteer and from the Republic of Ireland international's centre, the full-back crashed the ball against the under side of the bar.

Birmingham responded with the lively Lazaridis forcing Poom into a fine save and Morrison just failed to direct his header on target.

The best chance, however, fell to Oster. The Welsh international, set up by Arca, blazed wide with the goal at his mercy.

Man of the Match. Julio Arca. The former Argentina Under-20 international, linked with a move to the Premiership during the January transfer window, worked tirelessly on the left side of midfield and was instrumental in the Black Cats carrying the fight to their top-flight opponents.