Tommy Smith, an FA Cup semi-finalist with Watford last season, took Sunderland to within touching distance of the last four with the extra-time goals that earned the First Division side a deserved victory over Birmingham in last night's fifth-round replay at St Andrew's.
Smith, a second-half substitute, despatched the rebound after Kevin Kyle volleyed against the bar in the 99th minute. Sixteen minutes later, he left the Premiership defence trailing before finishing with aplomb. Sunderland now host Sheffield United in a tie which, with Millwall tackling Tranmere, guarantees two semi-finalists from the Nationwide League.
No one came closer to preventing the additional half-hour than Sunderland's John Oster. His 83rd-minute free-kick deflected off a defender, forcing Maik Taylor to change direction and make a remarkable last-gasp save with his right foot. Birmingham, the more enterprising side in the first half, could not have complained had their First Division opponents gained the reward their second-half dominance merited.
The contest started worryingly for Birmingham when David Dunn's return from a month-long calf injury was curtailed as he was taken off on a stretcher with an apparent hamstring injury.
Stephen Clemence joined the fray with little to separate two sides who are a division apart. Birmingham, who went into the evening unbeaten in eight matches, had the better of the initial sparring, with Clinton Morrison clearly primed to impress after Steve Bruce admitted he made a mistake by leaving him out of the starting line-up at Aston Villa on Sunday.
Bryan Hughes had a heading chance which he contrived to glance for a throw-in before Morrison, turning smartly following a cross by Olivier Tebily, drew a fine diving catch from Mart Poom with a curling shot.
Sunderland, in whom Mick McCarthy has instilled a doggedness, played on the break. In the 31st minute, a long, diagonal pass by Phil Babb forced Taylor to leave his six-yard area to scramble the ball away from Kyle.
While Morrison lacks the finesse of Christophe Dugarry, who has returned to France after a recurrence of his knee injury, he compensates with sheer endeavour and willingness to shoot. Put through by Mikael Forssell on the stroke of half-time, he twisted away from the last defender but Poom saved with his legs.
Sunderland's confidence grew in proportion with the crowd's restlessness, with both Marcus Stewart and Stephen Wright missing good chances around the hour-mark.
Oster was a particular threat to Birmingham's jaded-looking defenders with his running on the ball. Another surge by the Wales winger set up a shooting chance for Kyle, who confirmed that his talents lie in his aerial strength by blazing high over the bar. Robbie Savage strove to enthuse his colleagues. But it was no surprise when Stern John, scorer of the equaliser at Villa Park, was sent on by Bruce as the manager sought to avoid extra time.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Taylor; Tebily (John, 71), Cunningham, Purse, Kenna; Johnson, Savage, Hughes, Dunn (Clemence, 10; Carter, 97); Morrison, Forssell. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Cissé, Carter.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Poom; Wright, Breen, Babb, McCartney; Oster (Thornton, 105), Whitley, Thirlwell, Arca; Stewart (Smith, 62), Kyle. Substitutes not used: Ingram (gk), Thornton, Williams, Cooper.
Referee: M Dean (The Wirral).Reuse content