Three days after that memorable night at Old Trafford, which had seen Gus Poyer’s Sunderland team secure a place at Wembley to face Manchester City in the League Cup Final, the team returned to the Stadium of Light for more cup action – this time a FA Cup Fourth Round game against non-league Kidderminster Harriers.
Making their debuts for a much-changed Sunderland team were two Argentinians who’d arrived at the club only days before: Santiago Vergini and Oscar Ustari.
Vergini, a 6’3” centre back, was signed on loan from Estudiantes, a club he’d only joined in the previous summer. He’d spent the previous two seasons at Newell’s Old Boys, and before his move Estudiantes had allegedly been linked with a move to Barcelona. The fact Poyet had managed to secure his signature, albeit on loan, was therefore viewed as something of a coup.
Ustari, meanwhile, had been brought in to provide back up to – and challenge – Vito Mannone. The former Boca Juniors keeper, who had been in Argentina’s 2006 World Cup squad, had been released by Spanish team Almeria and Poyet pounced.
Despite the duo having been in the country for a matter of days, Poyet decided to throw both of them into the deep end. Before a crowd of over 25,000 at the Stadium, they lined up like this, with only Cattermole retaining his place after Wednesday night’s exploits.
Sunderland: Ustari, Celustka, Vergini, Diakite, Roberge, Larsson, Cattermole (Colback 72), Ba (Gardner 66), Mavrias, Giaccherini (Borini 66).
Subs not used: Pickford, O’Shea, Ki, Watmore
The game started brightly with Sunderland in fine attacking form. Greek winger Mavrias, who’d been signed by the holy trinity of Di Canio/De Fanti/Angeloni the previous summer, opened the scoring after five minutes, curling home from 12 yards after an error by a Kidderminster defender.
Ustari preserved the lead, saving well from striker Gash after Giaccherini’s misplaced pass sent him through on goal, however that was Kidderminsters only effort on target.
And, despite registering a further 22 shots on goal, Sunderland failed to trouble the scoreboard; Harriers’ keeper Lewis saving from Vergini’s long ranger.
At the other end, Ustari could only watch on as debutant Freddie Ladapo – who’d signed from Colchester the day before – fired wide.
After the game, Poyet said:
It was not a classic. The only good part of the game was the first 20 minutes.
Then it became boring and difficult to watch, until the last 10 minutes when they gave it everything.
But credit to the other team. They should be proud of what they have done today.
It will be interesting to see who we get next, but getting three points on Wednesday (versus Stoke) is the most important thing.
The arrivals of Ustari and Vergini were followed days later by a third Argentinan, Nacho Scocco, however of the three only Vergini could be described as anything approaching a success.
Despite looking uncomfortable as a Premier League centre back, Vergini put in some admirable performances in the ‘great escape’ that followed. Ustari and Scocco, meanwhile, departed at the end of the season.
Of course, while we had made it to Wembley in the Capital One Cup, we missed out on a return visit to Wembley in the FA Cup. After seeing off Southampton at the Stadium of Light, another much-changed team days faced Hull in a quarter final tie. Poyet’s team selection that day still frustrates many supporters, especially given a Wembley semi against League One Sheffield United awaited.
Hull ended up losing the Final to Arsenal in extra time, but qualifying for Europe nevertheless.
And we had that ‘great escape’. Guess we can’t complain too much.