With their combined efforts, Notts County and Stevenage have ensured that this weekend's Tyne-Wear derby will on both sides be as much about righting significant wrongs as a battle for north-eastern football supremacy.
Having served three years in prison for causing death by dangerous driving, Lee Hughes knows all about attempting to make up for past misdemeanours that are rather more serious than the loss off a football match, however much emotional investment was made by both sets of fans on Saturday here.
The 34-year-old County forward received the now customary abuse from home supporters during his side's stirring FA Cup third round victory. He replied in the only way he allows himself to, doubling his side's advantage with his 10th goal of the season from a narrow angle 15 minutes from time, this after playing a central role in County's disputed early opener, which saw goalkeeper Simon Mignolet fumble Craig Westcarr's shot into his net thanks to Hughes' overtly physical presence, one that was overlooked by the officials.
"You take the abuse on the chin," the forward insisted after his sixth goal in seven games took the 1894 winners into the next round. He added: "The best response is to put the ball in the back of the net. I understand the abuse. When I was in prison I never thought I'd play on a stage like this. I'm gutted about what happened and I'm grateful to get a second chance. I feel lucky to be playing football again."
It's hard to have any sympathy with Sunderland manager Steve Bruce, who in sending out a much-changed line-up, fell short on both respecting the opposition and the competition with almost predictable results. The assortment of reserves and recalls amid the sprinkling of first-team regulars was still worth the thick end of £50m, somewhat in excess of Paul Ince's collection of has-beens and those who never quite were, who sit 52 places below them. Hughes admitted: "I don't think anyone in our starting line-up cost a penny."
Darren Bent made for an uncomfortable finale for the visitors, converting an 81st-minute penalty after Ricky Ravenhill tripped Andy Reid, one of few Sunderland players to emerge with any credit. An 11th goal of the season was the only notable contribution from Bent or Asamoah Gyan, his partner in a £25m front two that is struggling to click. They weren't alone. Marcos Angeleri has impressed enough to have played for Argentina while Paulo da Silva and Cristian Riveros stood out for Paraguay at the World Cup.
"To go out like that was pathetic," Bruce, a three-time FA Cup-winner with Manchester United, two of those alongside Ince, admitted. He added: "Players have been knocking on my door asking for a chance but some of them did themselves no favours."
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet; Angeleri (Bardsley, 70), Da Silva, Ferdinand, Richardson; Reid, Colback (Henderson, 61), Riveros (Elmohamady, 60), Malbranque; Bent, Gyan. Substitutes not used: Carson (gk), Reed, Adams, Bramble.
Notts County (4-4-2) Nelson; Thompson, Pearce, Edwards, Harley; Davies, Bishop, Ravenhill, Judge (Hunt, 79); Westcarr (Hawley, 89), Hughes (Woods, 85). Substitutes not used: Mitchell (gk), Lee, Burgess, Sodje.
Referee: S Attwell (Warwickshire)
Booked: Notts County Bishop, Nelson.
Possession: Sunderland 52% Notts County 48%
Shots on target: Sunderland 2 Notts County 3
Man of the match Hughes Rating 7/10
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