Our League Cup run this season has seen three different managers take charge, but there was one consistent theme throughout the campaign - when it looked like our luck had ran out, somehow victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat and the march to Wembley continued. Considering that Sunderland's style is usually to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, this break from the norm seems worthy of celebrating. So here are my top five moments on our cup run when the lads have fought back when everything looked to have slipped away.
1. Altidore's goal against MK Dons
Sunderland had put together an uninspiring and inept 75 minutes against lower league opposition, and looked to be falling at the first Capital One emblazoned hurdle in the race to Wembley. So far, so Sunderland. But as the game looked to be petering out with the away side 2-0 up, Jozy Altidore went one-on-one with the 'keeper and coolly slotted his finish home for his first Sunderland goal. What followed was simply extraordinary as early second-half substitute Connor Wickham scored twice before Adam Johnson chipped in with a superb individual goal to bring the game to a close at 4-2. A fantastic turnaround after Sunderland looked to be down and out in the very first round.
This turned out to actually be Paolo Di Canio's only win in the 2013/14 season, and though surely everyone (especially Phil Bardsley) is happy the mad Italian is long gone from Wearside, he did at least make the first step towards the final.
2. Bally steadying the ship against Peterborough
Although we'd managed a thrilling late comeback against MK Dons, it didn't seem too unlikely that our defeat to League One opposition had merely been delayed. With Paolo Di Canio's madcap reign ending just days before the match, no one would have been massively surprised if a Sunderland side in disarray had simply failed to turn up. Instead, under the calm leadership of caretaker Kevin Ball, Sunderland dispatched the Posh with a minimum of fuss and generally looked a much happier and more professional outfit when free from being told to spit in their own faces after games, funny that.
3. Boriniiiiiiiiiiii and Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii
This surely was when we first started to believe that maybe, just maybe, this could actually be our year. Two lower league sides had been dispatched, followed by a professional dismissing of Southampton in the last 16. But now was the big test. When Chelsea managed to get ahead with a mixture of Cattermole and Frank Lampard bundling the ball over the line, it looked like the inevitable had happened and our chance had been blown. This was reinforced as Sunderland played extremely poorly for most of the second half, looking as if they were simply killing time until our defeat and exit. If there was going to be another goal, it would surely be Chelsea's.
But then, as so often during this run, a late goal completely changed everything. With just minutes to go the ball fell to substitute Fabio Borini who tucked it home - bring on extra time. From playing poorly and being close to elimination, Sunderland now had the running of the game. But despite being on top, the goal wouldn't come. Penalties looked to be unavoidable. But it wasn't time for them, not yet. Ki Sung-Yueng instead popped up to smash the ball home and make certain of his place in Sunderland hearts with just minutes to go before the shootout.
4. Jesus Bardsley's resurrection at 119'
Despite taking a one goal lead to Old Trafford, we nearly managed to blow our chances before half-time when John O'Shea turned off at a corner letting Jonny Evans head United back level again. The vagaries of the away goal rule meant that despite Sunderland failing to score by 90 minutes, the tie went into extra-time - but with the caveat that if there was no further score, United would finally progress on away goals. As extra-time ticked on the home side fell deeper and deeper, and the domination of Poyet's men increased more and more. Yet still no goal. Even the 118 minute mark when Ki fired us into the semi-finals against Chelsea passed with no goal.
Then, with Sunderland camped on the edge of the United box, Phil Bardsley unleashed an un-thunderbastard that was fumbled into the net by De Gea. Watching at home I danced around deliriously shouting "WEMBLEY WEMBLEY WEMBLEY"; we'd done it, made it to the final! Surely it was too late for United to bring themselves back into it now...?
5. Don Vito making United sleep with the fishies
Of course, there had to be a sting in the tail. Just when it looked like we'd booked our place in the final, up popped Javier Hernandez just seconds later to smash the ball home and bring on the penalty shootout that, to be honest, was always inevitable. Heart-break loomed, and when the usually reliable Craig Gardner missed his penalty I have to admit I feared the worst. As penalty after penalty was missed by both sides, one man stood tall and took the final strides on our march to Wembley - Vito Mannone. With the shark-faced Italian denying Rafael's spot-kick we secured our place at Wembley, and snatched an incredibly satisfying victory from the jaws of utterly devastating defeat once again.