It was less than two years ago that Sunderland were paying Tore Andre Flo some £42,000 a week to roam the pitch at the Stadium of Light in the vague hope of somehow locating the opposition goal. In 12 months as an £8m signing, a club record which still stands today, the towering Norwegian scored just four times - at a cost to Sunderland of £2m per goal plus wages.
How times have changed. At the Stadium of Light on Saturday the Black Cats clawed their way past top-flight opposition in the FA Cup with the influential assistance of two players signed for a total of £40,000 - £2,000 less than a weekly Flo wage packet.
Gleaned from Stockport for £15,000, Andy Welsh played with such assurance, and not a little trickery, that he collected the man of the match award on his full debut. He scored the equaliser on the brink of half-time with a curling free-kick from wide on the right and, at 21, looks to be a left-winger of some promise.
Also 21, Neill Collins is another significant block in Mick McCarthy's cut-price rebuilding mission. Snapped up from Dumbarton in the summer, Collins, a stand-in for Gary Breen in the centre of defence, made his presence felt against the Premiership's predator of the moment.
Andy Johnson was shackled so assiduously by him that the Palace striker vented his frustration with an over-the-top tackle. The young Scot gave as good as he got, though. He was booked himself for a retaliatory challenge, and he had an answer ready for Johnson while lying supine on the pitch after inadvertently poking a Wayne Routledge cross into his own net before Johnson could do so.
"He came across to me and said it was a great finish," Collins confided afterwards. "I said, 'Thanks very much'." By the finish of the tie, Johnson was heartily shaking Collins' hand in obvious respect. And rightly so.
Marcus Stewart won the game with a 60th-minute penalty, after being minimally balked by Fitz Hall, and in doing so Sunderland gained a measure of revenge for their penalty shoot-out defeat to Palace in the First Division play-off semi-final at the Stadium of Light last May.
McCarthy was a happy man, unlike his opposite number. "We didn't fight enough for our pride and for our supporters," Iain Dowie lamented. "I'm not going to accept a performance like that." The Palace manager was nominally celebrating his 40th birthday yesterday. He was no doubt still feeling mad all over.
Goals: N Collins (41 og) 0-1; Welsh (44) 1-1; Stewart (60 pen) 2-1.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Myhre; Wright, Caldwell, N Collins, McCartney; Whitehead, Robinson, Thornton, Welsh (Piper, 75); Elliott (Bridges, 83), Stewart (Brown, 69). Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Lynch.
Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Kiraly; Butterfield, Hall, Powell, Granville; Routledge, Leigertwood, Watson (Shipperley, 66), Hughes, Lakis (Soares, 62); Johnson. Substitutes not used: Speroni (gk), Boyce, Torghelle.
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).
Booked: Sunderland: N Collins, Wright. Crystal Palace: Johnson, Hughes, Hall.
Man of the match: Welsh.
Attendance: 17,536.Reuse content