MATCH VERDICT: Sunderland 0 Bolton Wanderers 2
TWENTY years on from one of their greatest FA Cup nights, Wanderers produced another performance right out of the White Hot locker.
After a season of hurt, the 300 fans who trekked through the snowy hills to the windswept North East – and indeed those left biting their nails at home – deserved a night like this.
Marvin Sordell produced two second-half goals to set up a fourth round meeting with Everton at the Reebok – another echo of those heady nights two decades ago – in what must rank as his best night as a Bolton player.
But the same can be said for a handful of Dougie Freedman's side, who first matched the Premier League Black Cats for effort, and then beat them in the quality stakes too.
If the magic of the FA Cup hadn’t exactly captured the imagination of the Bolton public just over a week ago, then it appeared to have had exactly the same effect on Wearside as a more than half-empty Stadium of Light sat silently through a largely uneventful opening half hour.
Wanderers worked hard, covered ground and kept a shape that would probably have pleased Freedman but their diligence in defence didn’t exactly make for riveting viewing.
Adam Johnson was just about the only Sunderland player able to make inroads and it was from his tricky run and shot round Marcos Alonso that Andy Lonergan was forced into his first meaningful action of the half.
The former Leeds stopper was making only his third start since his summer move from Elland Road – but just as he had in the first game, was mixing the eccentric with the just plain excellent.
While he inexplicably chose to punch away a series of crosses from James McClean rather than catch them, Lonergan also kept the scoreline goal-less heading into the break with a couple of fine saves.
Johnson's curling free-kick was pushed around the post, while Connor Wickham's close range header was gathered well.
There would have been little that Lonergan could have done about Titus Bramble's low shot had it been on target, but thankfully for Wanderers, the big defender got his angles wrong after latching on to Stephane Sessegnon's pass.
In an attacking sense there was little to warm the cockles for the 300-or-so Whites fans.
Chris Eagles curled one shot well wide and tried one clever return pass to Marvin Sordell when a simple one would possibly have given the England Under-21 star a route in on goal.
But one cheerful moment brightened the gloom when about 15 minutes in, Holden came out of the dugout for his first warm-up, so be serenaded from some 80-feet above in the stands by the travelling supporters.
Craig Gardner had found his way past Lonergan with a rocket at the Reebok and nearly repeated the feat with a 25-yard free kick immediately after the restart, which flew inches wide of the post.
But out of the blue, it was Wanderers who very nearly seized the advantage. Sordell looked to be in an offside position when Spearing found him on the edge of the box, but as referee Kevin Friend waved play-on, the striker cut back inside Bramble to scuff a shot at goal that was well blocked by Simon Mignolet.
Wanderers – driven by Spearing and Afobe's industry – started to find their gear.
Eagles lifted one shot over the top and suddenly those mistakes that had been so prevalent in the early stages of the first tie started to appear again.
Clearances were scuffed, passed were hurried, and then when Darren Pratley made a well-timed dart into the penalty area, Jack Colback's challenge was clumsy enough to send the midfielder sprawling.
With Keith Andrews absent, you may have expected one of the more senior figures to claim control. But instead, it was Sordell who snatched the ball, spotted it, and smashed it home from 12 yards.
Just nine minutes later, Wanderers were in dream land.
Tyrone Mears raided into the penalty box to cut a ball back for Sordell, whose first touch wasn't the best, but the second was just enough to steer the ball past Mignolet.
Sunderland were shell-shocked. Freedman brought on Holden for his first appearance since October 2011 and it was fitting that in those closing stages that the Whites should retain the mettle they had lacked for so long in his absence.
The Wearsiders huffed and puffed but Lonergan wasn't really fully tested again – leaving Wanderers to ride out another famous cup win.
Two years ago the club lost its greatest-ever player in Nat Lofthouse, and you can bet he would have approved of a display like this.
Once again, this grand old competition has given us something to smile about.