When I heard from last night's Sky Sports commentary team that there was, off-screen of course, a streaker on the pitch, I thought that would be as good as the night would get. At the time it seemed strangely fitting. This club, which has suffered over the last few years from a handful of bad decisions and gambles that haven't paid off, and bottom of the Premier League, seemed to be whimpering out of the League Cup to Chelsea. I can think of no better protest than a man, sick to death of watching this faltering team, running around the Stadium of Light waving his genitals at Craig Gardner, before receiving the banning order that means he never has to return. If he was to go out, he was to go out in style.
As it is, I soon found out I'd built up this new hero of mine to heights greater than he deserved. He wasn't actually a proper streaker, choosing to leave his trousers on, though he did manage to run around a few stewards, which is always entertaining. As it is, I was wrong about needing something as trivial as full frontal nudity to cling to.
It turned out to be a thrilling night for Sunderland fans, despite 88 minutes of it being incredible flat. After Lee Cattermole had inadvertently turned the ball into his own net just 34 seconds into the second half, Sunderland were mere passengers in the game, and never looked like finding an equaliser. It was a show of remarkable strength of persistence that they did, and in Extra Time the momentum led them to outplay Chelsea and pick up a deserved winner. This team certainly lacks quality, but it can't be denied that they have fight in abundance.
Throughout the week, in fact from the moment the tie was announced, comparisons were made between this game and the last time these two teams met in a night time cup quarter-final on Wearside, in an FA Cup replay at Roker Park in 1992. It went down at one of the most famous games at the old ground; the last of it's real classic matches, with the atmosphere said to be as raw as it had ever been. Gordon Armstrong's late winner sealed a 2-1 victory.
I was a foetus at the time of that win, so I have no first hand experience of that game. All I have to go on is match reports, youtube videos and anecdotes, and there are certainly a lot of the latter. What I do hope is that Tuesday night's victory is remembered in a similar vein and I see no reason why it won't be, aside from the fact that this one took place in a half-empty stadium, as opposed to a packed old-fashioned ground like Roker Park, though the lack of a big crowd certainly didn't stop quite a noise from being made when the 118th minute winner was scored. The similarities before the game to that 1992 one were found on the pitch too, with another 2-1 victory thanks to a late winner. Ki Sung-Yeung took the role of Gordon Armstrong and cult status is likely assured for the talented Korean now.
There seems to be a special relationship between Sunderland and these late-night Cup games. The 3-1 victory over Manchester City in the 5th Round Replay of the 1973 FA Cup run voted the greatest in Roker Park's history, and Vic Halom's goal considered the greatest score at the old ground. This isn't to say there hasn't also been some disastrous nights too, but even some of the defeats have a place is supporter's hearts. For some reason I fondly remember listening to the 1999 League Cup second leg at Leicester on the radio as a child, having attended the Stadium of Light for the first time for the first leg defeat, and hearing that Kacey Keller had denied Sunderland an extra time with a great save.
This Chelsea match on Tuesday night will certainly join the list. It's hard not to notice the increasing disconnect between club and fans in recent months, and how disillusioned a great deal of fans have become. However this was the kind of result that will go some way to making the supporters proud of this team again, even if it's only temporary, and one that might give us some momentum ahead of the fight against relegation.
However, we should be reluctant to think of this win as a turning point; that usually ends in disappointment, as we've seen that already this season after the wins against Newcastle and Manchester City. The 1992 Cup run ultimately ended in defeat to Liverpool in the final. We should instead, take this match for what it was; another memorable night on Wearside.