A couple of weeks prior, in Sunderland’s defeat to Everton at the Stadium of Light, manager Gus Poyet conceded his team would need a miracle in their quest for the most unlikely of survivals from relegation.
Following on from their draw against Manchester City, in a so close yet so far game, Sunderland defied the odds by beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. This was Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho’s first defeat as a home manager in 78 games.
Not only was this a landmark achievement for the Black Cats, but now they were only three points from safety with a game against fellow strugglers Cardiff City to come at the weekend.
The sudden change in fortunes was completely unexpected. Sunderland’s season had faltered completely in the aftermath of their Wembley defeat to Manchester City. They appeared to be a beaten docket. They were deflated, derailed and dismal in their performances.
Even Poyet agreed. He labelled their draw against Manchester City and this win against Chelsea as “remarkable”.
After the game, Poyet laid down the gauntlet, saying:
It’s not finished. We’re in a big fight now. We have got the possibility now. We have got to play the teams around us now at home. It’s up to us. We need to stop thinking about what we have done and think about the next game.
He was right, the next game was vital. But this win was massive. Enormous, even. Sunderland came into this game with almost no one backing them. Not even their own fans.
It didn’t start too well for them either. Chelsea started strong and controlled proceedings, and they took the lead early through Samuel Eto’o.
Willian’s delivery found the Cameroon frontman, who pounced in front of Lee Cattermole to notch his 12th goal of the season from close range - what they deserved.
That goal appeared to spark the away side into life - pressure appeared to be eliminated and they played with more freedom.
The peculiar reappearance of Connor Wickham was having a positive impact. A career that was stalling ignited into life with his positive performance against Everton and then his brace against Manchester City.
His goal run continued in this game too. The equaliser came from a corner as the ball was sent directly to Marcos Alonso in acres of space on the edge of the area. His low drive was only parried by Schwarzer and Wickham reacted quicker than John Terry to score his third goal in a week.
This was Sunderland’s best attacking moment in the first half as Chelsea regained dominance after conceding - they rode their luck.
In a season of consistent heroic displays, the Black Cats were indebted to their keeper Vito Manonne once again. He deflected a Nemanja Matic shot off the crossbar just before half time and saved point blank shots from Mo Salah, Willian and Matic again in the second half.
Mike Dean was also saving their skin. In a frantic and frenetic end to the half, two penalty appeals were turned down by referee Dean as Alonso appeared to handle inside the box and Sebastian Larsson shoulder-barged Ramires off the ball in front of goal.
Clearly irked by what he saw as an unfair challenge, Ramires was lucky to escape punishment moments later as he elbowed Larsson in full view of Dean.
The second half followed a similar pattern. Whilst Sunderland displayed moments of positive attacking play and fluidity, Chelsea dominated the best chances. Manonne continued to inspire.
Chances from Eto’o and Demba Ba went astray. The longer the game went on, the more confidence grew for the away side.
Eventually for Chelsea, they paid the ultimate price as Azpilicueta’s slip let in Jozy Altidore down the right.
Azpilicueta slid in to try to challenge the American and was ruled to have brought him down.
Former Chelsea forward Borini, who is on loan from Liverpool, kept a cool head to slot the ball past Schwarzer to send the visiting Sunderland fans into raptures.
Sunderland were going to do the most unlikely thing and defeat Chelsea on their turf.
This goal meant more than this one game. This was the game that sparked the survival. The players knew it. The fans knew it. They were going to complete the managers self-proclaimed miracle.
With Cardiff City to come at the weekend, the momentum was theirs.
Step forward, Connor Wickham.