Goalkeeping heroics usually seem to feature in Sunderland's FA Cup tradition and Simon Mignolet played his part and kept his side's Wembley hopes alive with a double save at the death to deny Everton a late winner.
Under the cosh for almost the entire second half Martin O'Neill's side must now be fancied to win the replay, in which case Everton will kick themselves for not making progress when they enjoyed a massive share of the game.
O'Neill described Mignolet's late stops from John Heitinga and Nikica Jelavic as "two unbelievable saves", though even the Sunderland manager quite rightly baulked at comparisons with Jim Montgomery. "Jim won Sunderland the Cup," he said. "We are still a million miles from that."
The slightly disappointing truth about this eagerly anticipated quarter-final was that neither side appeared to be in a mood to stride purposefully towards Wembley. Both teams set off at a cracking pace but a highly promising first half gave way to a second period bereft of ideas or attacking invention.
Sunderland were just hanging on by the end, while Everton were coming up with endless variations on how to control two thirds of the pitch but constantly lose possession and composure in the area where it mattered. They hardly peppered Mignolet's goal despite being dominant for over an hour, and even had Heitinga's header or Jelavic's shot crept past Mignolet a win would have flattered them.
Two evenly matched teams will most likely cancel each other out again in the replay (scheduled for March 27), after which it may be left to someone else to light up the competition this year. Everton manager David Moyes was so disappointed he did not trust himself to speak afterwards, mainly because he felt Everton should have had at least one penalty, yet although Andre Marriner refereed the game erratically he could not be said to have favoured one side.
Moyes made no apologies for prioritising this tie over the Merseyside derby in midweek, yet though the Everton manager was undoubtedly up for the Cup, his players began with uncharacteristic diffidence. Sunderland were quicker and sharper in the opening exchanges, beating Everton at their own game by setting a brisk tempo and showing a greater appetite for the 50-50 challenges.
The home side should have had a penalty when Royston Drenthe was blocked by Craig Gardner on a solo foray forward, but Sunderland survived the scare to take the lead when Everton fell asleep at a set piece. Expecting a cross from a free kick on the right, Everton did not react quickly enough when Sunderland played the ball infield instead, and Phil Bardsley scored his first goal of the season with surprising ease with a shot from outside the area through a crowd of players.
That shock served to rouse Everton, who looked much more like their usual selves in fighting back from behind. They equalised with a typical Tim Cahill goal midway through the first half, the midfielder showing all his old timing and alertness in arriving at exactly the right place to improve on Jelavic's header with a second header of his own. Jelavic had flicked the ball vaguely goalwards from Leighton Baines' cross, though Mignolet was not in any trouble until Cahill stole in to divert the ball decisively past him. Another Cahill header brought a save from the Sunderland goalkeeper at a corner just after the half hour, with Sylvain Distin missing the target completely in his attempt to lash in the rebound.
Sunderland were upset that a foul had gone undetected in the build up to Everton's goal, though there was no doubt that the home side were on top by the interval. Everton would have turned round in front had Drenthe's 30-yard free kick dipped a fraction lower instead of striking the angle of Mignolet's post and bar.
Everton continued to apply pressure in the second half without looking particularly like scoring a goal. Seamus Coleman made an opportunity for himself by breaking into the box past two past two defenders only pull his shot wide when tho goal came into view, then in a good position Cahill squandered a decent chance from Marouane Fellaini's knockdown by tamely prodding the ball straight to Mignolet.
When Jelavic headed a fraction too high on the hour it began to look as if Everton might regret not making their superiority count, especially as they spent much of the rest of the game struggling to find either Jelavic or Fellaini with crosses into the box.
Mignolet produced his double save as Everton threw everything forward in the closing seconds, but that apart Sunderland held out fairly comfortably.
"It's an opportunity missed, because we had a lot of the game," Everton's assistant manager Steve Round said. "We are disappointed, but it is within our capabilities to win at Sunderland."
Sunday Indo Sport