Sunderland survived an upset and an inquest into their character under Martin O’Neill after recovering from two goals down to earn a replay against Bolton Wanderers. O’Neill had spoken passionately of the desire to emulate Bob Stokoe’s memorable FA Cup triumph of 40 years ago but it needed a stunning late equaliser from Craig Gardner to keep his club in the third round.

Dougie Freedman’s team were unable to withstand impressive late pressure from the Premier League visitors but could also count themselves fortunate to encounter a Sunderland team that produced a lamentable first-half display. Lee Chung-yong and Marvin Sordell capitalised to put Bolton clear only for substitute Connor Wickam and Gardner to ruin an outbreak of rare joy at The Reebok.

The visitors could not offer the excuse of a reshuffle for their dismal opening with only three changes made to the team that started well but ran out of energy in the 3-0 defeat at Liverpool on Wednesday. Bolton, 16th in the Championship, rested goalkeeper Adam Bogdan, Tyrone Mears, Kevin Davies, Chris Eagles and Jay Spearing yet were not troubled until two goals ahead. And they were helped on their way with an early gift.

The Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet started the problem with a risky pass to Carlos Cuéllar near their own corner flag. Cuéllar was under pressure from Sordell but still had time to pick a better pass than the one he threaded between two team-mates and straight to Lee on the edge of his area. With Mignolet stranded, Lee converted first time from 18 yards.

Lee was involved in the second goal, this time delivering a corner that Sunderland only half cleared to the edge of their penalty area. The Bolton captain Keith Andrews headed back in and despite facing away from goal and having defenders on his shoulders, Sordell was able to divert a header into the far corner.

Finally the visitors responded with a 30-minute display that countered the suspicion the tie mattered only to their fans. Steven Fletcher almost pulled a goal back immediately but his flying header was turned over at point-blank range by Andy Lonergan, the first of three good stops from the Bolton keeper against the Scotland international.

The injured Cuéllar was replaced by the striker Connor Wickham, to the obvious relief of the away end, and within seconds Sunderland had a glimmer of hope when a corner caused mayhem in the Bolton box. Fletcher was thwarted at close range but the ball dropped to Wickham at the back post who scored with practically his first touch.

Martin Petrov went close for Bolton but by now the Sunderland pressure was unrelenting. Adam Johnson blazed over, Lonergan threw himself at Fletcher’s header and eventually, from a short corner rolled to the former Manchester City winger, the visitors had their reprieve. Johnson’s cross was headed away only as far as Craig Gardner who drove an outstanding finish into the top corner from 25 yards.

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