Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Cats Another Step Closer to Cup Glory

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Cats Another Step Closer to Cup Glory

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Gilder

Sheffield United decided to prepare for this game by going fell walking in Derbyshire, yet it was Sunderland who hauled themselves closer to the summit of domestic success as the Black Cats reached a new peak in what is becoming a season of celebration.

Mick McCarthy's players still have a mountain to climb if they are to negotiate the arduous sequence of fixtures which stands between them and the Premiership. In FA Cup football, though, it seems no obstacle is too great to overcome.

Semi-finalists for the first time in 12 years, the Wearsiders will await today's draw with interest. If Arsenal and Manchester United can be avoided, a place at the Millennium Stadium and qualification for European competition will be genuine ambitions.

Once again, Tommy Smith was the hero with a superbly taken winner. Smith has been Sunderland's FA Cup talisman this season and just four frenetic minutes had been played when John Oster's searching centre picked out the former Watford favourite as he lurked in the penalty area. Smith's header was plucked out of the air by keeper Paddy Kenny but the Blades didn't heed the warning.

Apart from a Michael Tonge free-kick which flashed narrowly wide of Mart Poom's goal, it was McCarthy's men who appeared the more ambitious in the opening exchanges and the 15th-minute advantage they claimed was fully deserved.

Turning defence into attack in decisive fashion, Julio Arca and George McCartney combined cleverly to take the play deep into United territory. McCartney found Smith but the striker, whose previous FA Cup goal on this ground had denied Sunderland a sixth-round place last term, had much still to do.

An intelligent touch with his right foot gave the 23-year-old sufficient space to dispatch a curling shot with his left from 15 yards out. It proved too good for Kenny and Smith celebrated in the knowledge his fifth strike for the club had been the best and potentially the most important.

Not that the tie was over and a visiting team who have become the English game's cup specialists in recent times, reaching both domestic semi-finals last season, doggedly increased their efforts. …

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