Even for Sunderland, the 2013-14 season was a crazy rollercoaster. Starting off with Paolo Di Canio at the helm after his two victories in the final seven games of the previous season, had managed to steer Sunderland to occupy the position they held the day he was appointed.
The summer of 2013 was a bizarre window for Sunderland that was greeted with much optimism, but was ultimately disastrous for the club. Owner Ellis Short was determined to drive the club in a different direction, and began with the appointment of the club’s first director of football - Roberto De Fanti.
His job was to create a new squad from scratch, and to do it on a budget. Players such as Titus Bramble, Matt Kilgallon, James McClean and Simon Mignolet left the club in the summer, as well as Danny Rose returning, after his loan spell, to Spurs. To remedy the situation, no fewer than fourteen players joined the club to boost the ranks, of which only five had Premier League experience.
There were some successes however, Fabio Borini impressed in that first season at Sunderland, as did Vito Mannone, Ki Sung-yueng and in patches Emanuele Giaccherini showed what he was capable of producing, although inconsistency plagued his time on Wearside.
Unfortunately, players such as Cabral, Valentin Roberge, Modibo Diakite, Chavis Mavrias, Jozy Altidore among others, will forever be associated with a rebuilding job that had apparently utilised matchsticks.
Ahead of the season opener at the Stadium of Light against Martin Jol’s Fulham, it was clear that Lee Cattermole and Phil Bardsley were out of favour with the Italian head coach, and were essentially unavailable for selection. Five players made their debut in the sunshine in what turned out to be a defeat by the only goal of the game that set the tone for what time Di Canio had left.
One point in the first five Premier League games meant the writing was on the wall and once again Ellis Short decided to make a change at the top and Paolo Di Canio was no longer an employee of Sunderland. Sandwiched in between those five fixtures was a small matter of Di Canio’s only competitive win of the season which came in the form of a 4-2 victory over MK Dons in the 2nd round of the League Cup at the Stadium of Light.
This meant that the first fixture for caretaker manager Kevin Ball was a home tie in the 3rd round against Peterborough United who was also successfully knocked out of the competition, courtesy of a 2-0 victory.
Fast forward almost six weeks, and Gus Poyet is now the man in charge as Sunderland prepare for the 4th round tie at home to Mauricio Pochettino’s Southampton. By this time, the Uruguayan already had a victory over rivals Newcastle United under his belt. In his second game in charge, and his first home game in the dugout, a late Fabio Borini strike gave Sunderland all three points in a 2-1 win.
With this new found confidence, Southampton were eased aside 2-1 at the Stadium of Light in front of only 15,966 to setup a quarter-final home tie with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
Despite it being a quarter-final, the enthusiasm for taking on The Blues for a place in the semi-final didn’t seem to grip the Wearside masses and only 20,731 were in attendance. The first half possibly went some way to explaining why, as a Frank Lampard inspired Chelsea were completely dominant and deservedly took the lead in first half injury time.
A fantastic ball in behind the Sunderland defence and across the face of goal by Cesar Azpilicueta found Frank Lampard and Lee Cattermole jostling to connect at the back post, with the final touch coming off a despairing Cattermole.
The second half continued where the first left off, with Chelsea pressing high as Sunderland were trying to come to terms with the new manager’s method of playing out from the back, which almost resulted in the tie being out of sight five minutes after the restart.
As Sunderland once again played out from the back Craig Gardner misplaced a pass that sent Samuel Eto’o through on goal, but fortunately for Sunderland he could only slide it narrowly past the post down to Vito Mannone’s left hand side.
Then, as Chelsea were seemingly playing the game out to earn themselves a place in the semi-final, Lee Cattermole picked up the ball in the centre circle with a minute of the game remaining, and slid a ball across the deck right down the middle of the pitch to find Giaccherini, who had acres of space behind the midfield of Chelsea.
After driving towards goal, the Italian international slid the ball through for Jozy Altidore just inside the box. The American’s first touch let him down resulting in Mark Schwarzer quickly closing him down before he could get a shot away, which after being smothered by the keeper, fell to Fabio Borini on the edge of the six yard box and despite the acute angle managed to find the far corner.
This meant extra time, and with Chelsea in a state of shock at not seeing the game out and Sunderland growing in confidence, the game turned into a cagey affair that didn’t spark again until the final ten minutes of the second period of extra time,
With seven minutes left on the clock, and with penalty shoot-outs beginning to occupy the minds of those in attendance, Seb Larsson picked the ball up on the right hand side mid-way inside the Chelsea half and swung in a deep ball into the box. It bizarrely found Ki Sung-yeung who found himself unmarked just to the left of the penalty spot and did everything right by aiming a precise header towards the top right hand corner, only to see Schwarzer pull off a top class save by tipping it over the bar.
Five minutes later, and with only two minutes left of extra time, Ki gave the Chelsea goalkeeper no chance as he gave Sunderland the lead right at the death. A long ball into the box from the right eventually found it’s way to Fabio Borini on the penalty spot, who laid it off to the left to the South Korean international. Who after feigning to shoot, cut inside onto his right foot and hooked back into the corner of the net sending Schwarzer the wrong way and Sunderland into the semi final - and that visit to Old Trafford.
Sunderland: Mannone, Celustka, O’Shea, Brown, Dossena, Larsson, Cattermole, Gardner (Ki), Giaccherini (Bardsley), Johnson (Borini), Altidore Substitutes not used: Dixon, Roberge, Cabral. Mavrias
Chelsea: Schwarzer, Azpilicueta (Essien), Cahill, Luiz, Cole, Obi Mikel, De Bruyne, Lampard, Willian, Schurrle (Hazard), Eto’o (Ba) Substitutes not used: Blackman, Terry, Oscar, Torres