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Sunderland 0-0 Fulham FAC 4r 1415 The Guardian

last updated Monday 26th January 2015, 1:26 PM

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Louise Taylor at The Guardian

Sunderland (0) 0-0 (0) Fulham

Jeers greeted the final whistle on a day when an excess of caution and conservatism landed Gus Poyet with a thoroughly unwanted fourth-round replay in west London.

The Sunderland manager's response to the need to play Jermain Defoe in an attacking pair has been to switch to a back five, bolstered by a utilitarian central midfield trio. It would have been interesting to see how much more inventive his team might have been had Emanuele Giaccherini or, possibly, Ricardo Álvarez, started at the expense of one of Sebastian Larsson, Liam Bridcutt or Jack Rodwell.

By the time of Rodwell's second-half sending-off for a second yellow card Sunderland had created next to nothing.

Although Defoe subsequently seized on sufficient penalty area scraps to force Marcus Bettinelli into a handful of decent saves, Hugo Rodallega came within an inch of winning it for Fulham when his late shot rebounded off a post.

"There's an element of satisfaction but also an element of frustration," said Kit Symons, the Championship side's manager. "Our quality was not quite as good as it has been recently."

Sunderland fans would probably not demur but many will hope to see Giaccherini on the team sheet for the replay. Given a decent first-team run the Italy international could surely bridge the creative gap in the Wearside midfield that has never really been filled since Andy Reid's departure four years ago.

This lack of invention largely explains why Sunderland have won only twice at home this season. Given the importance of beating Burnley in next Saturday's relegation clash here, it has also left Poyet with much to ponder. "It was a difficult game to watch," he said. "Fulham were comfortable; our passing wasn't at the level I'd hoped for."

A twinge in an achilles tendon meant that Ross McCormack, Symons's £11m leading scorer who had hit a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest in midweek, began on the bench. Yet even though Fulham were without their talisman, the teams looked so evenly matched it was hard to credit there was a division between them.

Sunderland were struggling to get the ball to Defoe, and from their sole real first-half scoring opportunity Bettinelli reacted smartly to save Larsson's low shot with his feet.

Despite Fulham being largely restricted to half chances, Symons's extremely well organised team constructed the odd pleasing attacking cameo, frequently featuring the impressive Moussa Dembélé.

Noting that far too many Sunderland passes were directed either sideways or backwards and that, initially, Defoe might as well not have been on the pitch, the home fans booed Poyet's players off at the interval.

It appeared that those who opted to stay away - the attendance of just under 23,000 was down by almost 50% - had made a wise decision.

The mood might have turned uglier had Seko Fofana's dangerous 51st-minute shot not been deflected to safety. No matter; shortly afterwards Defoe finally connected with a half-chance, shooting wide.

Once McCormack stepped off the bench the game opened up, permitting Defoe to begin testing Bettinelli's reflexes, with one particularly fierce volley offering a reminder of why he possesses 55 England caps.

Indeed, Rodwell's dismissal for that second yellow card - his tangle with Bettinelli having followed a rash first-half challenge on Konstantinos Stafylidis - could not have come at a worse time for Sunderland.

When Rodallega subsequently hit the post, Poyet probably could not believe his luck but Symons was left with mixed feelings. "I'm a little bit disappointed but, overall, I'm very proud," he said. "I was always confident we could win tie the tie and I'm even more confident now."

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