Notts County fought valiantly at the Stadium of Light this afternoon to knock Sunderland out of the FA Cup with a 2-1 victory.
Craig Westcarr got Notts off to the best possible start with a header that caused havoc inside the home six-yard box. It was the forward's third goal in as many games and he was unfortunate not to have another by half time.
Sunderland had chances to level the tie after the break but failed to make the most of their opportunities. Lee Hughes made them pay with his 10th goal of the season on 75 minutes.
Darren Bent pulled one back for the hosts shortly after from the spot, setting up a tense finish. However, Notts held on to cause a huge upset and a deserved one at that.
A healthy away following made the trip north for the clash against the in-form Premier League outfit, hoping that they'd witness a similar upset to last season's triumph over Wigan Athletic. On the back of five wins in the last six games, the Magpies went into the fixture fully confident of claiming another scalp.
With a number of loan signings returning to their parent clubs, it paved the way for a number of players to come back into the team. Hughes, Ricky Ravenhill and John Thompson were all handed a start, but there was also a place on the bench for youth goalkeeper Liam Mitchell in the absence of the injured Rob Burch.
Notts stood up well to Sunderland, working hard to close down from the front. Nobody expected to see Paul Ince's side go in front but on five minutes, Westcarr stunned the hosts.
The forward's headed flick-on looped towards Simon Mignolet in the home goal, though numerous players went for the same ball. Lee Hughes made his presence felt but it appeared to be Kieran Richardson that barged the goalkeeper out of the way, leading to the ball finding its way into the net.
A packed out away section went berserk, as Westcarr and his teammates celebrated at the far end of the pitch. But, from this point onwards, it was about shutting out the Premier League stars, whose frontline consisted of Asamoah Gyan and Darren Bent, two very serious threats.
The backline was coping well, helped by the physical, never say die attitude shown by the midfield pairing of Neal Bishop and Ravenhill. However, Andy Reid, surging forward, almost levelled, when he broke into the box and prodded just wide of the top corner.
Mike Edwards came just as close for Notts from Ben Davies' curled free kick towards the back post. The defender managed to get a toe to the ball but was unfortunate to see his effort evade all yellow shirts and the back post.
Four minutes before the break, it looked like it was 2-0, following some determined work by Bishop in the Black Cats' box. Eventually, the ball was presented to Westcarr, who was denied by Mignolet's superb low stop.
Notts had two scares just before the half time whistle. Ravenhill's last-ditch challenge prevented Jack Colback from getting a shot away and Stuart Nelson saved well at the feet of Gyan, making sure it was 1-0 at the break.
It was always going to be interesting to see how Sunderland would come out after the interval. They looked sharper in possession but Notts continued to frustrate them, as they maintained a no-nonsense approach at the back.
It wasn't until a double substitution was made that Steve Bruce's men looked like scoring. Fresh off the bench, Jordan Henderson and Ahmed Elmohamady combined down the right flank, before the latter's low cross saw Steed Malbranque fire narrowly wide.
Elmohamady, who has been one of Sunderland's star performers this term, was in the thick of the action again, moments later. Collecting the ball on the wing, he teed up Bent with a pinpoint cross but the striker's header wasn't as accurate.
More openings followed for Sunderland but they remained frustrated. Malbranque nearly found the bottom corner with a measured volley and Bent was, again, unable to convert with his head, despite being totally unmarked.
And, with 15 minutes left on the clock, Hughes punished the missed chances with a sublime finish to make it 2-0. The striker had initially drifted into the box with some intricate footwork, only to have his shot blocked by Mignolet, but from an acute angle, he managed to find the net to mass hysteria in the seating behind the goal.
The upset looked to be on the cards but it was placed into doubt when Ravenhill gave away a penalty. Bent stepped up confidently and even had Nelson guessed the right way, he would not have reached the strike.
It was going to be a nervy last 10 minutes and Ince packed out his defensive armour by bringing on Stephen Hunt and Michael Woods at the expense of Hughes and Judge. Five minutes of added time brought even more tension but Notts held on to book a place in the Fourth Round.
Attendance: 17,582 (2,677 Notts County supporters)
Magpie Player Man of the Match: Neal Bishop