THE amazing story of Sunderland’s League Cup run to Wembley culminated in an unfortunate defeat to super rich Manchester City on Sunday afternoon and the Black Cats went down thanks to two unbelievable moments worthy of winning any final.
Goals courtesy of Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri in Sunderland’s 3-1 defeat were the products of transfer muscle in a different league to that of the Wearside club, but the League Cup runners up can take heart from the newly installed drive of a team looking forlorn and beaten just six short months ago. It’s a new attitude that has been evident since current manager Gus Poyet took charge of the club in October.
The Uruguayan boss has inspired a renewal in belief essential for a club in the midst of a relegation dog fight and it is something that has been showcased throughout every game of the pulsating run to their first cup final since 1992.
It will be this work ethic and determination that will see Sunderland climb the Premier League table from 18th place during the final twelve games of their league campaign.
The electric Fabio Borini embodied everything that was good about the Black Cats on their big day out, as tens of thousands of fans travelled south to Wembley Stadium. The on-loan Italian made himself a constant thorn in the side of Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany and the rest of his defensive cohorts throughout an impressive first half display. The early goal was a result of Borini’s pace allowing him to tear through Kompany and his centre back partner Martin Demichelis. On the balance of the game, the goal was thoroughly deserved.
Poyet’s tactical nous and the will of his players to execute a game plan meant the underdogs bossed the first half, making Manuel Pellegrini’s expensive array of talents look somewhat ordinary in the process. A midfield run by Ki Sung Yueng helped to negate any threats forthcoming from a Manchester City side wary of letting another cup final slip through their fingers.
Of course, the difference was made during a second period that saw Yaya Toure conjure up what was one of the best cup final goals in recent history and by the time Samir Nasri completed the turnaround a mere 105 seconds later, the game had flipped into the favour of the favourites. A Manchester City lead would have changed the dynamic of the game if it happened and that’s why Poyet’s men were so forthcoming to battle against it.
But once Nasri’s sublime effort nestled in the net, many felt that Sunderland’s chance had gone. Chasing the game would always have meant Sunderland were susceptible to losing another goal on the break and that is exactly what happened.
Despite the disappointment, the Wearsiders can take heart from a performance to be proud of and their former Brighton boss will no doubt be looking to channel their disappointment in the right way to avoid more of the same at the conclusion of the season.
Sunderland lie 18th in the Premier League table with twelve matches to go and with games in hand over their relegation rivals. Poyet’s side can gain encouragement from running the best team in the country so close to the edge on the big stage.
There was a togetherness evident on the pitch throughout Sunday’s game that should comfort any Sunderland fan concerned about their perilous position in the league standings. Whilst team spirit in the league can arguably only get you so far, the side also boasts a superb blend of youthful exuberance in the shape of Borini, with proven experience in the central defensive pairing of John O’Shea and Wes Brown. The latter being two members of a Champions League winning squad with Manchester United.
Poyet will have another crack at a spot at Wembley this weekend with an FA Cup Quarter Final trip to Hull City, before turning attentions back to league duty at home to Crystal Palace on March 15.
With a team spirit and quality that is indicative of the club manager’s playing days, Black Cats fans can dream of a second Wembley visit in a matter of weeks with victory this Sunday, but they can also be confident in the knowledge that if they can keep displaying the League Cup spirit, Premier League football next season will be well within their grasp.
•This article was written by FTBpro’s Scott Saunders
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