We take a look at Sunderland's route to the Capital One Cup Final
Second Round – Sunderland 4-2 Milton Keynes Dons
Sunderland are preparing for a Capital One Cup Final against Manchester City as you read this – but their run to Wembley nearly ended right at the first hurdle.
They entered the competition at the Second Round stage and were handed a home tie against League 1 side Milton Keynes Dons, with the Black Cats – still managed at the time by Paolo Di Canio – expected to go through.
That was despite them having drawn one and lost one of their opening two Premier League fixtures while the Dons, having started their season before their hosts, had won one and drawn the rest of their League 1 games, while also making Capital One Cup progress at the hands of Northampton Town.
And it was Karl Robinson’s side who looked set for an odds-beating victory as not only did they go in front on seven minutes through on-loan Chelsea striker Patrick Bamford, they doubled their lead 10 minutes into the second half through Izale McLeod.
Jozy Altidore halved the deficit and, just as the Dons were closing in on a famous upset, they were caught out three minutes from time as Connor Wickham levelled the tie up.
The momentum was all with Sunderland and rather than sit back and wait for extra time, they crushed the Dons’ hopes with two more goals before the final whistle.
Third Round – Sunderland 2-0 Peterborough United
The draw for the Third Round once again paired Sunderland with League 1 opposition, this time in the shape of Peterborough United, though by the time the tie came around things had changed in the manager’s office, with caretaker Kevin Ball in charge following Paolo Di Canio’s exit.
After beating Milton Keynes Dons, Sunderland had lost their next three Premier League fixtures, conceding nine goals in the process, so Ball’s first task was to galvanise his troops following the end of the short-lived Di Canio era and make them tighter at the back.
Especially as Peterborough had made a flying start to their season with 30 goals scored in 10 games played – including a 2-1 vanquishing of MK Dons in their last outing.
The situation was, therefore, seen by many outsiders as being ripe for an upset but this time Sunderland made no mistake.
They were made to work hard for their victory but what was of more importance to them was simply getting that win, however it came, and they had the added bonus of being only the second side all season to keep Peterborough from scoring.
Peterborough had won 5-1 at Colchester United in the First Round then beat Reading 6-0 in the second but their scoresheet remained blank this time as goals in the 32nd and 74th minutes respectively from Emanuele Giaccherini and Valentin Roberge – both signed by Di Canio – were enough to put Sunderland through.
Fourth Round – Sunderland 2-1 Southampton
By the time Round 4 came around the Black Cats were on their third different manager in three Capital One Cup ties in 2013/14.
Caretaker boss Kevin Ball had taken control for just three matches with that victory over Peterborough his sole entry in the wins column and the job eventually went to Gus Poyet, who had guided Brighton and Hove Albion to the Championship Play-Offs the previous season.
Poyet had lost his first match in charge, 4-0 at Swansea City, but soon endeared himself to the Sunderland fans by guiding the side to their first Premier League win of the season at the end of October – a dramatic 2-1 success at home to arch-rivals Newcastle United.
A 1-0 defeat at Hull City was then something of a set-back, while Southampton headed to the North East on the back of eight games unbeaten so were seen in many quarters as favourites to earn a place in the Quarter-Finals.
It was certainly a difficult prospect for Sunderland as they faced Premier League opposition in the competition for the first time this season but, just as he had done in that previous home match against Newcastle, Poyet got what was required out of his players.
They opened the scoring in the 59th minute through Phil Bardsley and with four minutes left they doubled their lead thanks to substitute Sebastian Larsson. Maya Yoshida bagged his first goal for Southampton to set-up a nervy finish by Sunderland saw it out to go through to the quarters.
Quarter-Final – Sunderland 2-1 Chelsea (AET)
There were no changes of manager at the Stadium of Light this time as Gus Poyet had, while not dramatically, steadied the Sunderland ship after his appointment.
Poyet’s side were viewed as underdogs against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea who had won four of their last five matches, a run that also included progress in the Champions League.
And when they opened the scoring early in the second half through Frank Lampard it looked like the Londoners might well go on to prove that their tag as favourites was warranted with progress to the Semi-Finals of the competition that was the first won under Mourinho in his first spell in charge.
But Sunderland kept pushing, they kept knocking at the door, and two minutes from time they got their reward when Fabio Borini – against his old club – notched the equalising goal.
Borini had only been on the pitch for 15 minutes but had a major impact and took the game to extra time where Poyet, coming up as a manager against the club he spent four years as a player with, came out smiling.
His first change of the evening had been to introduce Ki Sung-Yueng shortly after the hour and it was one that proved inspired in the end as, with a penalty shoot-out looming, the South Korean chose the perfect time to score his first goal for the club with a composed finish in the 119th minute of what turned out to be an enthralling encounter.
Semi-Final – Sunderland 3-3 Manchester United (on aggregate, AET, Sunderland won 2-1 on penalties)
With the two Manchester clubs reaching the Semi-Finals of the competition alongside West Ham United and Sunderland, all eyes were on the draw to see if they would face off over two legs or there would be the prospect of a Wembley showdown and the first Manchester derby in a major English final.
The latter situation arose as Manchester City were handed an encounter with West Ham while Manchester United, the defending Premier League champions but still adjusting to life after Sir Alex Ferguson, were paired with Sunderland.
The Black Cats had home advantage to kick-off the run of Semi-Final fixtures, all played on separate nights, though David Moyes’ United side had already won 2-1 at the Stadium of Light in October with a double from Adnan Januzaj.
The scoreline was 2-1 again this time around and it was Sunderland who were left on the right side of it as after Nemanja Vidic had equalised in the 52nd minute following Ryan Giggs’ own goal on 45, Fabio Borini stepped up with a penalty on 64 to give them the advantage.
United had won the competition in 2009 and 2010 and on both occasions they had trailed after losing the first leg away from home only to then turn it around at Old Trafford so they were certainly backed to do the same again this time.
And with Manchester City having already gone through in their Semi-Final Moyes knew that if he could do what Sir Alex had done in recent years he would be taking United to Wembley just months after taking over.
Sunderland, for their part, knew that a clean sheet would take them through to a first major final since the FA Cup of 1992, but Johnny Evans opened the scoring after 37 minutes.
A 1-0 scoreline after 90 minutes took the game to extra time and, in the 119th minute, former United man Phil Bardsley let fly with a low shot from outside the box that David De Gea fumbled over the line.
It sent the Sunderland fans high behind the goal into raptures but there was still time for one last twist and Javier Hernandez poked United level on aggregate right at the death.
Such a late goal bore all the hallmarks of Sir Alex’s great sides but what happened next certainly did not.
A 2-1 United win on the night for 3-3 on aggregate was the only outcome that could send the tie to a penalty shoot-out so spot-kicks were required to decide who would face City at Wembley.
After four penalties each it was 2-1 to Sunderland and that left Adam Johnson with the chance to win it for the away side, but his shot was saved by de Gea, though they were still in with a shout of avoiding sudden-death as Rafael had to then score United’s final penalty to keep them alive.
The Brazilian full-back went low to Vito Mannone’s right but the big Italian guessed correctly and saved well to spark scenes of utter jubilation among the Sunderland players, supporters and coaching staff as their place at Wembley was confirmed in the most dramatic of ways.