The gale that damaged the roof of the Stadium of Light and caused the closure of the north-east stand yesterday was probably the most forceful blast in Sunderland since Mick McCarthy's raging reaction to the Black Cats' pussy-footing play-off semi-final penalty shoot-out loss to Crystal Palace last season.
There was not a great deal of power behind the left-foot shot that Marcus Stewart dispatched from the penalty spot on Palace's return to Wearside in the FA Cup yesterday, but it had sufficient direction to beat Gabor Kiraly, and leave Sunderland's manager in a mood of mellow satisfaction.
Stewart's 60th-minute delivery, into the north stand goal where Michael Hughes won the play-off shoot-out for Palace, earned McCarthy's men a measure of revenge for their defeat at the penultimate promotion hurdle last May.
It settled a feisty contest in which Sunderland were once again in danger of shooting themselves in the foot. The Black Cats were obliged to claw their way back on to level terms after Neill Collins had gifted Palace the lead with an own goal. They did so courtesy of an in-swinging free-kick by the highly impressive Andy Welsh, on this evidence a £15,000 steal from Stockport.
Still, it was a deserved success for Sunderland, who showed greater hunger - a fact not lost on Iain Dowie. "We did not play in the manner of a side who thought this was an important competition," the Palace manager said, distinctly unhappy on the occasion of his 40th birthday. "We didn't perform enough for our pride and for the supporters who were here and who were stuck on the A1. I'm not going to accept a performance like that."
Palace were off the pace from the start, and fortunate not to be a goal or two behind in the opening quarter of an hour. Welsh, making his full debut after a substitute appearance at Preston last week, ought to have opened the scoring in the fifth minute but snatched hastily with a left-foot volley, hitting the cross-bar from five yards. Stephen Elliott and Stewart also spurned openings for Sunderland and it took 33 minutes for the much-vaunted Andy Johnson to make any impression for Palace. His over-the-top tackle on Collins deserved a booking, and invited the retaliatory challenge that earned the Sunderland defender a yellow card a minute later.
Johnson was celebrating in the 41st minute when Wayne Routledge's low cross from the right was poked in at close range, though television replays showed clearly that it was Collins who had applied the scoring touch - a fact the defender himself later volunteered. As it was, though, the Palace celebrations did not last very long. Four minutes later, from a free-kick wide on the right, Welsh curled the ball directly into the Palace net.
It was little more than Sunderland deserved, and they were in front on the hour, Stewart burying his penalty after collapsing to the ground, apparently tripped by Fitz Hall. "The penalty was immaterial," Dowie said, when asked if he thought contact had been made. "Sunderland deserved to go through."
Indeed, they did. And they would have done so by a greater margin had Sean Thornton not twice clipped Kiraly's crossbar in the last five minutes. Still, Sunderland had reason enough to be happy with their victory. "Of course I'd swap it for a win in the play-offs," McCarthy reflected. "I'd rather be in the Premiership than in the fourth round of the FA Cup. But it still doesn't half taste nice."