Sunderland’s FA Cup third round tie with Shrewsbury was our first appearance at that stage of the competition since 2018.
For a fourth round entry, you have to go back to January 2015 when we entertained this weekend’s opponents, Fulham.
Back in 2015, things were a bit different at the time we were a Premier League club desperately trying to break the cycle of continuous relegation battles, and Fulham were slowly recovering from the disastrous Felix McGath era and heading towards a 17th placed finish in The Championship.
Fulham had picked up just one point from their opening seven games before the German was shown the door.
Kit Symons was initially appointed as caretaker manager and after steadying the ship in West London was given the job permanently in October 2014.
Symons would go on to be a familiar face on Wearside a few years later when he was appointed as Chris Coleman’s assistant manager during our disastrous 2017-18 season.
Sunderland’s 2014/15 campaign was spiraling from lower mid table tedium to a full on relegation battle.
On Christmas Day 2014, the Lads had lost just four league games, albeit one was an 8-0 reversal at Southampton, and drew 11.
By the time we entertained Fulham at the Stadium of Light in the original FA Cup tie, our number of defeats had doubled.
Things did not improve that day, as Jermain Defoe’s first appearance at the Stadium of Light proved to be a drab goalless draw.
Between the initial tie and the replay, Sunderland did at least win their second home league fixture of the season as they defeated Burnley 2-0, and new boy, Defoe got on the scoresheet for the first time.
Sunderland controlled proceedings in West London but found themselves a goal behind on 28 minutes when a goalmouth scramble fell to Hugo Rodallega, whose effort went in off the underside of the crossbar.
The hosts hung onto their lead until the 62nd minute, when Marcus Betenelli somehow managed to misjudge a routine catch and fumbled the ball over his own line.
Sunderland finally made their constant spells of pressure pay on 75 minutes when Ricky Alvarez (more on him later) cut inside and rifled home a powerful strike from inside the Fulham area.
Our safe passage to round five was secured in stoppage time when Nikolay Bodurov dragged Danny Graham down in the box and Jordi Gomez calmly sent the goalkeeper the wrong way.
Back to Ricky Alvarez…if one man could sum up our recruitment during our latter years in the Premier League it would be this man.
Signed to much fanfare, an exciting YouTube compilation video and an obscure online article describing him as Wesley Schneider’s replacement at Inter Milan, Alvarez made just thirteen appearances in a Sunderland shirt.
This flop ended up being more costly than most though, as our annual Premier League escape act triggered a €10.5 million buyout clause. We didn’t want to pay this on the grounds that we weren’t allowed to carry out necessary surgery on the player at the request of Inter Milan.
Sunderland’s medical team claimed that the injury to his right knee had been accelerated by both the left knee tendinopathy, and a previous microsurgical repair in his right knee which had not been initially disclosed by Inter and would have voided the purchase option.
In 2017 we lost our legal battle because we knew about the aforementioned injury during Alvarez’ medical and didn’t approach Inter at that time. Oh, I almost forgot, Alvarez also made a claim against Sunderland for loss of earnings during the dispute and was awarded £4,770,000 in compensation.
This combined with legal costs took the total value of the transfer/non transfer to more than £20m.
We very kindly tried to sue our former club doctor for £13m to recover some of our expenditure and this case was not dropped until Kyril Louis-Dreyfus arrived in 2021.
This is arguably the pound for pound worst transfer the club has ever conducted, but still we’ll always have that night in Fulham to remember and without it we would never have had the opportunity to witness Phil Parkinson’s Bradford dump Sunderland out of the cup on a mud bath in the following round.