With their side leading 2-1 after the semi-final first leg at the Stadium of Light, the Red and White Army travelled en masse to Old Trafford nine years ago today hoping to see Sunderland book a place in the Capital One (League) Cup final.
It sometimes feels like only yesterday that over 9,000 supporters, the highest away following in England that season, were in Manchester for the second leg but after a long and at times fraught evening those in attendance ended up delirious at having witnessed one of the most memorable nights in the club’s recent history.
It started with hosts Manchester United on the front foot as they looked to claw back the one goal advantage the Black Cats had held courtesy of a Fabio Borini penalty on Wearside two weeks earlier.
Nemanja Vidic had cancelled out Ryan Giggs’ own goal earlier on in the game, but neither were involved this time – Javier Hernandez instead being given a start in a shuffled home side selected in a bid to find a winning formula.
It was Hernandez that had the first sight on goal too, forcing a save from Vito Mannone, and whilst the Sunderland keeper was to have an eventful time of it his teammates were not just there to make up the numbers.
Most outsiders had been tipping the Red Devils to overcome the relegation threatened Lads, but head coach Gus Poyet was slowly yet surely implementing his ideas, and the side showed signs of their continued progress.
Borini was next to go close in fact, sending a volley just over the bar during an impressive first season at the club. The Italian had joined on a temporary basis from Liverpool but it was two former loan signings that combined to open the scoring, with Jonny Evans nodding in from a Danny Welbeck flick following a disputed corner from Adnan Januzaj – who would also come to Sunderland for a period later in his career. It was harsh on Mannone and co. who had otherwise looked solid, but with the tie now evenly poised the stage was set for a tense second half.
Playing in the latter stages of a cup competition was nothing new for United, but two of their decorated ex-players helped keep Sunderland on an even keel. John O’Shea and Wes Brown made sure chances were hard to come by and so the game went into extra time; things remained tight thereafter too. and following a dramatic climax the tie would eventually have to be settled on penalties.
For a moment it seemed as if Sunderland were going to avoid all that nail biting when another Old Trafford old boy put them back ahead on aggregate. Phil Bardsley struck lucky when his shot from the edge of the area was fumbled by David De Gea but just as the celebrations in the away end had started to die down Hernandez popped up at the other end to side foot the ball home and confirm spot kicks. That could have been a crushing blow for the Black Cats but they were quickly handed a psychological advantage when it was decided that the shoot out would take place in front of their massed ranks, and with them getting the first kick.
In what was now becoming an emotional rollercoaster though, the usually reliable Craig Gardner missed the target only to see Welbeck shoot wide as well. This should have then been the time for reigning Premier League champions United to fall back on their experience in the most pressurised of situations, but the spot kicks ended up becoming farcical almost. Only three were converted, and after Marcos Alonso and Ki, two more loan purchases, had edged Sunderland in front it fell to Mannone to get the job done.
Having saved from Januzaj already he faced the final effort from Rafael, getting down low to put a strong hand on the shot and turn terrace nerves into unbridled joy. Time and time again teams had wilted on the big Old Trafford stage but the thousands of now jubilant fans had just watched on in pride as Sunderland had stuck to their task and stayed in the game throughout, and their reward was a first trip to the new Wembley – with the hashtag ‘Dare to Dream’ soon sweeping through social media as a result.
Sunderland returned to their own Theatre of Dreams in the Premier League later in the season and registered a hugely important win that went a large way towards their miraculous survival. On that occasion the Lads produced some stunning attacking football, but it was the match on this day that will arguably live longest in the memory, when the club was challenging for the main prizes and had reached their first cup final since 1992.
Wednesday 22 January 2014
Capital One Cup semi-final second leg
Manchester United 2 (Evans 37, Hernandez 120)
Sunderland 1 (Bardsley 119)
3-3 on aggregate, Sunderland won 2-1 on penalties (Gardner missed, Welbeck missed, S. Fletcher saved, D. Fletcher 0-1, Alsonso 1-1, Januzaj saved, Ki 2-1, Jones missed, Johnson saved, Rafael saved).
Sunderland: Mannone; Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso; Johnson, Ki, Cattermole (Gardner 82), Colback, Borini (Altidore 86); Fletcher. Unused: Ustari, Celustka, Vergini, Larsson, Giaccherini.
Old Trafford, attendance 71, 019