SUNDERLAND'S hopes of a first major trophy since 1973 are still alive after a battling 1-1 draw at Everton this afternoon.
The Black Cats will be in the hat for tomorrow's FA Cup semi-final draw, with a quarter-final replay provisionally scheduled for the Stadium of Light a week on Tuesday.
Phil Bardsley's long-range pile-driver gave Sunderland the ideal start at Goodison Park, and the hosts dominated the early exchanges with a series of
However, Everton equalised when Tim Cahill headed home midway through the first half, and the hosts merited at least a draw as they dominated long periods of the game.
Sunderland have still not beaten Everton since 2001, but they should start as marginal favourites for the replay, with the carrot of a semi-final at Wembley dangling within reach.
Martin O'Neill named the same side that had beaten Liverpool last weekend, and the Sunderland manager could not have wished for a better start to the second leg of his side's Mersey double header.
Just 12 minutes had gone when Jack Colback displayed impressive initiative to roll a quick free-kick into the path of Bardsley.
The full-back proved adept at striking from distance last season, and he repeated the trick to claim his first goal of the current campaign with a fierce long-range effort that whistled past Tim
Everton were already aggrieved at that stage after referee Andre Marriner waved away an early penalty appeal for a possible Craig Gardner foul on Royston Drenthe, and the hosts struggled to match
their opponents in the opening 20 minutes of the game.
James McClean headed Bardsley's cross over the crossbar at the back post as the Black Cats displayed plenty of early invention, but the visitors' advantage disappeared in the 23rd minute.
Leighton Baines crossed from the left, and Cahill pounced to nod Nikica Jelavic's header into the corner of the net. Cahill has been a persistent thorn in Sunderland's side down the years, and this
was yet another telling contribution from the Australian.
He might have added his second goal of the afternoon shortly after had Simon Mignolet not kept out his header from Leon Osman's corner, and with a capacity Goodison Park home crowd roaring them on,
Everton gradually wrested the initiative in the closing stages of the first half.
They were unable to claim the lead before the interval, but they came extremely close as Drenthe's 25-yard free-kick rattled against the angle of crossbar and post.
They were also the better side at the start of the second period, with Mignolet making two reasonably comfortable saves to deny Cahill in the opening ten minutes of the half.
The Sunderland goalkeeper was beaten in the 65th minute, but Jelavic's header from Baines' free-kick dropped just over the crossbar rather than under it.
Unlike the opening 45 minutes, Sunderland spent most of the second half on the back foot, but Jack Colback held his own in the central area and both Michael Turner and John O'Shea competed
effectively against the muscular Jelavic.
The 73rd-minute introduction of David Vaughan helped to shore up the midfield further, but Sunderland were indebted to Mignolet for a fine double save with three minutes left.
The Belgian clawed away John Heitinga's goalbound header, before hurling himself to the ground to keep out Jelavicv's follow-up strike.
EVERTON (4-4-1-1): Howard; Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines; Coleman (Gueye 72), Fellaini, Osman, Drenthe (Stracqualursi 85); Cahill; Jelavic.
Subs (not used): Hahnemann (gk), Hibbert, Jagielka, McFadden, Anichebe.
SUNDERLAND (4-4-2): Mignolet; Bardsley, Turner, O'Shea, Bridge; Larsson, Colback, Gardner, McClean; Campbell (Vaughan 73), Bendtner.
Subs (not used): Gordon (gk), Kilgallon, Krygiakos, Meyler, Elmohamady, Wickham.