by Susan Jardine
The Black Cats transformed themselves into Tigers at Old Trafford as they snatched a place in the League Cup final, and may well have put an end to Manchester United’s trophy chances this season in the process.
After claiming a 2-1 victory in the two legged semi final at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland headed to Old Trafford, potentially just 90 minutes away from Wembley, and their first league cup final in 29 years.
But all seemed to be going the way of the Red Devils as they levelled the tie overall when Jonny Evans opening the scoring. No other goals were forthcoming in 90minutes, and so with the teams locked at 2-2 the tie entered extra time. It looked as if Sunderland had made it when Phil Bardsley struck in the final minute of extra time, only for Manchester United to send the tie to a penalty shoot out with a last ditch effort from Javier Hernandez.
The ensuing shoot out may well have not been the best display in penalty taking, but it certainly lacked nothing in tension as Manchester United let slip an early advantage with Welbeck and Jones both missing and Januzaj having his spot kick saved by Vito Mannone. With a place in the final within their grasp Sunderland finally sealed it when Mannone saved from Rafael, giving the Black Cats a 2-1 victory on penalties.
All credit should go to Gus Poyet, who seems to have injected some self belief in Sunderland. When the Uruguyan took over from Paulo Di Canio the Black Cats were in desperate trouble in the Premiership. A 4-0 mauling at the hands of Swansea at the Liberty Stadium followed. But if there is one match that is guaranteed to raise morale it is surely the Wear Tyne derby.
And as we now know Sunderland ran out 2-1 winners in Poyet’s home debut as head coach. That of course was soon tempered by defeat at Hull. But little by little things were improving as they shocked Manchester City at the Stadium of Light, and gained a battling point in a draw at Aston Villa.
But still Sunderland couldn’t climb away from the bottom of the table and defeats at the hands of Chelsea and Tottenham did little to help them. A goaless draw in the East End of London against fellow strugglers West Ham saw Sunderland embark on a five match unbeaten streak, taking in victory against Chelsea in the league cup and a draw against Norwich in the Premiership. The calendar year though was to end on something of a high as the Wearsiders upset Everton at Goodison Park and then gained a point at home to Cardiff. The run though was to come to an end on New Years Day as they fell to defeat at the hands of Aston Villa. But since then another five match unbeaten streak has followed, with four out six points gained in the Premiership against Fulham and Southampton that has seen the Black Cats move off the foot of the Premiership and within a point of climbing out of the bottom three.
This weekend will see an FA Cup tie against Kidderminister. What is important is that Sunderland do not lose the momentum they have built up in recent times. As we have seen in sport it can be difficult to maintain an intensity for a following match after a huge victory. While Kidderminster should not be underestimated Sunderland should, with building confidence be good enough to see off the none league side.
And as Sunderland enter what could prove to be a critical point of the season, it is the Premiership matches against Stoke, Newcastle, Manchester City and Arsenal that may well go some way to deciding their fate as far as their future in the Premeirship is concerned.
But I am sure fans will have the date March 2nd in mind as that is the date of the League Cup final, where they will face Manchester City. 1985 was the last time Sunderland contested the final, against Norwich. I imagine fans will remember what happened on that particular day, and how the rest of the season unfolded which culminated in relegation from the top flight.
It represented an unlucky twist of fate. From their days as being known as the Rokerites Sunderland in theory now have one of the luckiest omens in black cats as their nickname. While luck can play a part in deciding a future Sunderland must maintain their improvement in the Premiership to try and prevent lightning from striking twice.