By Richard Clarke
Two headers in two minutes by Marcus Stewart saw Sunderland storm back to beat Arsenal 3-2 in this Worthington Cup third round tie at Highbury.
We appeared to be cruising into round four when Robert Pires fired us ahead in the 12th minute and Francis Jeffers coolly claimed a second just after the half-hour.
But Kevin Kyle gave Sunderland hope with a header 11 minutes after the break. Then Stewart gave them the tie with two more in quick succession.
Arsène Wenger paced the touchline in frustration towards the end. So much for the 'Worthless' Cup.
But then, in his pre-match press conference, the manager had argued this competition was a highly valuable to us because it allowed youngsters a run out in first-team conditions.
His team selection supported that notion with Sebastian Svard and Jermaine Pennant continuing their Highbury education. The bench was also packed with youth.
But the two players gaining the most from this exercise were two first-teamers coming back from injury. And it was those two who gave us the advantage after only 12 minutes.
Pires was continuing his rehabilitation after seven months out while Giovanni van Bronckhorst was starting for the first time since he suffered cruciate knee ligament damage on February 23 against Fulham. The Dutchman was afforded a generous welcome before kick-off.
The opening goal came when Kolo Toure was fouled near the left-hand byline. Van Bronckhorst took the free-kick and laid the ball back to Pires just outside the area.
The Frenchman's side-footed drive arrowed into the net via the fingertips of Sunderland keeper Jurgen Macho.
It was no more than we deserved. Toure had already nodded over from Pennant's corner. Then, seconds after the goal, Kanu nearly made it two but he just failed to get a touch on a low cross from Jeffers. The former Everton man got in on the act himself on the quarter-hour but his shot on the turn buried itself in Macho's midriff.
Michael Procter had the ball in the net for Sunderland on 17 minutes but the assistant referee had long since flagged for outside. At this point the visitors seemed to be suffering from resting many of their usual first-teamers.
We doubled our lead in the 33rd minute when Kanu's perceptive ball with the outside of his right foot sent Jeffers clear. The 21-year-old was another player in need of a goal after suffering from injuries in his first season at Highbury. But the calmness with which he stroked the ball past Macho suggested Jeffers is nearing his former sharpness.
Svard nearly nodded a third in first-half injury time but Macho held on. The visiting keeper was similarly relieved two minutes after the restart when Jeffers evaded Emerson Thome to go clear on goal. Unfortunately his shot was wild and wasteful.
Sunderland responded with vigour; Igor Stepanovs hurriedly hooking ball away from the diving Kyle a couple of minutes later.
Just before the hour, the Sunderland striker successfully repeated the trick. Paul Thirlwell swung over a corner from the right, Stewart nodded on and Kyle crashed home a header from close range. Sunderland now had their tails up and Procter troubled Taylor form distance.
But Pennant breathed life into the home side, dancing around a couple of defenders before teeing up Van Bronckhorst's 25-yard shot that was beaten away by Macho.
The winger then sent a teasing low cross that Kanu just failed to convert at the far post.
Ironically, Sunderland's equaliser came when Pennant was on the floor in need of treatment. Stanislav Varga won the ball, Proctor latched onto it on the left and Stewart flicked a header into the far corner.
The former Ipswich striker put Sunderland ahead less than a minute later. Substitute Matt Piper found space on the right and floated over a cross that Stewart nodded past Taylor with aplomb.
The young Gunners tried to lift themselves for the final stages. Van Bronckhorst came closest nodding narrowly over from Ryan Garry's cross. However the visitors held on.
Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source
26 May 2004
Pires lets fly.....and sees his shot crash homeRobert Pires fires in our opener
BUY THIS PICTURE..and celebrates with Giovanni
BUY THIS PICTUREIgors Stepanovs gets in a challenge on Kevin Kyle
BUY THIS PICTUREFrancis Jeffers is put clear...
BUY THIS PICTURE...and scores our second
BUY THIS PICTUREKanu battles with Emerson Thome
BUY THIS PICTURESvard tangles with ThirwellKanu evades Thome's challenge