Maybe it was the presence of Bobby Kerr, the FA Cup-winning captain of 1973, or the first home victory at the Stadium of Light since 20 September, but only one club was overcome by the occasion on Wearside yesterday and it was not non-league Northwich Victoria.
"We are on a roll so we will probably crush Chelsea next week," declared Mick McCarthy, fresh from his first victory as Sunderland manager in four months. He wasn't entirely extracting the Michael, proving that the romance of the FA Cup must be alive and well if even the most grounded of Yorkshire folk are blinded by its aura. "On Sunday we will be in Northwich's shoes as the underdog but someone will beat Chelsea soon so why shouldn't it be us?" he added. "We won't be lying down while they tickle our bellies."
Northwich did not roll over either, but it will not have escaped McCarthy's notice that they did not witness a glimmer of an upset as his side maintained the same ruthless approach to this tie as the Sunderland hierarchy. Having slashed admission prices to deny Victoria a valuable payday, guaranteed when only 19,323 supporters turned up - and over 3000 of them had arrived on 29 coaches from Cheshire - the gulf between the Premiership and Conference North was confirmed out on the pitch, although it will require another leap in class next week if Sunderland are to fulfil McCarthy's prophecy against Chelsea.
"All we could do today was win and even then we wouldn't get any credit," said McCarthy, though Sunderland's professionalism merited some. "But I have never doubted the attitude of my players and hopefully this will do wonders for our confidence."
Sunderland signalled their intent with two promising attacks before they deflated Victoria's hopes with a goal in the sixth minute from Neill Collins, who was the main beneficiary of the visitors' failure to clear a corner from the impressive Liam Lawrence.
Julio Arca was eventually presented with a chance to shoot from 18 yards and when his effort was blocked on the six-yard line the centre-half, making his first appearance for McCarthy's side since a loan spell at Hartlepool, converted off the underside of the crossbar. "That was the worst possible start," conceded the Victoria manager Steve Burr. "But we didn't cave in and I am delighted that we gave it everything. This was our Cup final, it has been a very special run and we made the most of it."
Had it not been for the continuing trials of Jonathan Stead, the home side's place in round four would have been assured before half-time. Stead's overall performance was encouraging: he created a second for Dean Whitehead with a right-wing cross that the Sunderland captain swept home from close range in the 41st minute; provided the left-wing cross that eventually led to a third for Anthony Le Tallec with 20 minutes remaining and two other excellent chances for Arca and the substitute Daryl Murphy.
Yet he squandered two glorious opportunities to ignite his season when he volleyed against the post from only four yards out and when he allowed Lawrence's cross through his legs from a similar distance. "I have no idea what he has to do to score," said his manager. "But if he carries on playing as well as that, he will get one."
Northwich had their moments, with Kelvin Davis required to save from Jonny Allan and a deflected Paul Brayson free-kick while Stuart Elliott and Michael Carr also went close, but for all of their endeavour and the tireless running of Carlos Roca, the exotically named left-winger from Oldham, they rarely got in behind the home defence. Roca was singled out for praise by McCarthy and replied: "I will cherish that. When someone at the top level gives you credit it makes it all worthwhile."
But it is back to the FA Trophy and a trip to Woking for Roca and Northwich this week, while McCarthy prepares Sunderland for what would be the biggest shock of all.
Goals: Collins (6) 1-0; Whitehead (41) 2-0; Le Tallec (70) 3-0.
Sunderland (4-4-2) : Davis; Hoyte, Stubbs, N Collins, D Collins; Lawrence, Whitehead (Welsh, 85), Miller, Arca; Stead, Le Tallec (Murphy, 78). Substitutes not used: Nosworthy, Alnwick (gk), Bassila.
Northwich Victoria (4-4-2) : Rogers; McCarthy, Payne, Charnock, Chapman (Sale, 78); Mayman (Byrne, 72), Elliott, Carr, Roca (Devlin, 83); Allan, Brayson. Substitutes not used: Connett (gk), Battersby.
Booked: Sunderland Miller; Northwich Victoria Roca.
Man of the match: Lawrence.
Attendance: 19,323.Reuse content