WITH Sunderland currently the best cup team in the country – only Manchester City come close – it should be no surprise that Manchester United were beaten at the Stadium of Light this week in the Capital One Cup semi-final first leg.
Yes, the job is only half done, but we take a precious lead to Old Trafford for the return on January 22, when it will be very much game on.
So many positives came out of this first-leg tie for the players and Gus Poyet got his tactics right and again used his subs well.
The introduction of Adam Johnson, in particular, had a huge effect.
From the first minute he came on, he was positive and it was no surprise that he won the penalty which produced what proved to be the winning goal.
Not many players make their debut in a semi-final, as new signing Marcos Alonso did, but the first impressions were good ones and hopefully, he’s the answer to what has been a problem position.
This is certainly not a vintage United team, but they are still the current Premier League title holders, so Sunderland’s win should not be devalued.
What I liked most was that after United equalised early in the second half, Sunderland’s heads did not drop.
Instead, they regrouped and came back at United hard and ended up as deserved winners.
That was not an easy task.
It took resolve and spirit, which can only benefit the team as this campaign goes on.
I’ve never known a season quite like this one, where the difference in results when it comes to cup and league has been so extreme.
But as far as cup ties go, Sunderland can do no wrong.
Sunderland despatched Carlisle as they were expected to do in the FA Cup third round and, with another home tie against lower-league opposition, a second cup run is more than possible.
If we could somehow lose our Premier League results, this season wouldn’t be looking too bad!
We continue to progress in cup competitions, aided by the fact that we haven’t had to play away from the Stadium of Light.
Against Carlisle, Sean O’Hanlon’s own goal was the game changer.
It was cruel on the Cumbrians and the breaks we never seem to get in the league, tend to go in our favour when it is a cup tie.
When you play teams from a couple of divisions below, it is very difficult to judge players.
But Duncan Watmore and El-Hadji Ba did themselves justice and showed promise when they came on.
And with January shaping up to be as busy a month as December was, they have put themselves in the frame for future games.
The Carlisle fixture was a case of job done.
Not spectacular, but progress made to the next round with the bonus of vital experience gained for some of the younger players.