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Monday 11 December 2017

John O'Shea hails match-winner Ricardo Alvarez as Black Cats hit fifth round of cup

Ricardo Alvarez of Sunderland celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between Fulham and Sunderland at Craven Cottage
Ricardo Alvarez of Sunderland celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between Fulham and Sunderland at Craven Cottage

Ricardo Alvarez shone as Sunderland reached the fifth round of the FA Cup - the kind of performance captain John O'Shea hopes the Inter Milan loanee can now start producing on a regular basis.

A deadline-day acquisition in September from the Nerazzurri, the 26-year-old attacking midfielder appeared quite the coup for the Black Cats.

However, the Argentina international has so far only been a bit-part player under Gus Poyet as injuries hampered his start to life in the north east.

It meant Tuesday's fourth-round replay at Fulham was just his fourth start in a Sunderland shirt - an opportunity he took full advantage of, capping an excellent display with a fine solo goal in a 3-1 comeback win.

That display pleased head coach Poyet and captain O'Shea, who has played with his fair share of attacking talent over the years.

"I was saying to Ricky in the first half and second half, 'Don't worry if there's one or two men on you'," the former Manchester United defender said.

"With his ability, he can ghost past players and I've seen him do it many times in training.

"That finish, too, had very little back-lift. I don't think the keeper even saw it before it hit the net.

"Hopefully now we can keep Ricky fit and strong."

You may well expect the quality of an Argentina international like Alvarez to come to the fore, but the renaissance of Danny Graham has been somewhat surprising.

The 29-year-old has not enjoyed the best of times since joining Sunderland two years ago, spending time on loan at Hull, Middlesbrough and Wolves.

Since returning from Molineux at the start of 2015, though, Graham has impressed from the bench on the four occasions he has been called upon by Poyet.

At Fulham the forward earned the stoppage-time penalty converted by Jordi Gomez and O'Shea believes he has an important role to play this term.

"His attitude has been exemplary and he is a fantastic lad in the dressing room," he said. "He is putting the manager under a lot of pressure to start in the team and that's what we need from everybody.

"If we can do that, the competition increases and hopefully you get better performances."

Fulham had boasted the lead through Hugo Rodallega's surprise goal on Tuesday until a game-changing own goal from Marcus Bettinelli - not that Kit Symons had any arguments with the eventual result.

The Whites manager pointed to under-performing players as key, in addition to the fact Lasse Vigen Christensen was only fit enough to start from the bench and captain Scott Parker was absent.

Another big name unavailable for the replay was Bryan Ruiz, whose topsy-turvy time at Craven Cottage looked to be over when Levante announced on Friday that an agreement had been reached to sign him on loan.

However, the Costa Rica international, signed for £10.6million three-and-a-half years ago, has yet to have his move to the Primera Division rubber stamped due to issues with the paperwork.

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