Having provided much of the pre-match atmosphere, Sunderland fans were sent into raptures by Fabio Borini’s 10th minute goal, only for their commendable efforts to be undone after half-time through spectacular Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri strikes. Substitute Jesus Navas broke away in the final minute to score a third City goal– the price Sunderland were forced to pay for a committed and disciplined first-half showing that had stifled their opponents’ attacking prowess.
Both teams’ defensive make-ups proved telling as the first half unfolded; Sunderland’s narrow back four allowed space on the flanks – particularly for City’s full-backs – but, when crosses came, bodies prevented any significant space in the penalty area. Samir Nasri was crowded out just before the half-hour mark – tamely prodding the ball towards Vito Mannone’s goal.
With pre-match talk focussing on the ‘big Wembley pitch’ being a negative for Sunderland, it was they who were keen to make the most of it. After Lee Cattermole dispossessed Fernandinho in the former’s own penalty area, Seb Larsson’s raking pass launched his side onto the offensive. Borini held off Vincent Kompany’s desperate lunge to finish expertly.
Further forays came as City’s high defensive line attempted to confine Sunderland to their own half – a long throw from Phil Bardsley released Adam Johnson, who failed to find his supporting team-mates in the six-yard box before Borini was close to striking again. As Larsson touched on another ball forward, the Swede’s interaction had not only denounced Borini offside (which ultimately was not given) but deceived Martin Demichelis, allowing the forward to scamper in on goal once more – only to be thwarted by a somewhat redeeming Kompany tackle.
Sunderland’s midfield continued to patrol, but David Silva’s disguised chip to Nasri just delayed what had come before – this time Bardsley clearing and City again denied. From the corner, Borini proved crucial in his own area too, heading a bouncing ball over his own cross bar after a near-post run had allowed the danger to travel.
And yet those first-half insights were undone in just three minutes. Sunderland had bodies behind the ball before Toure exceptionally curled the ball over Mannone and into the top corner, and the size of the pitch proved their undoing in falling behind. Costel Pantmillion’s long clearance stretched Sunderland before Aleksandar Kolarov picked out Nasri who capped the turnaround with a similarly emphatic finish.
The second goal proved to be the catalyst from the manager’s point of view; Aguero had played his part in the second goal and was replaced by Navas; Gus Poyet called for both Steven Fletcher and Craig Gardner to try and retrieve a foothold to some effect, as his side went more direct and Fletcher fired straight at Pantmillion on 72 minutes.
With time escaping Sunderland, the ball did similar to Fletcher after being found by Marcos Alonso’s header. Alone on the far post, the striker attempted to manoeuvre the ball onto his left foot but bumbled the ball out for a goal kick. Moments later, Alonso was dispossessed with team-mates advancing to initiate the counter-attack for Navas to wrap up victory.