DON’T tell Sunderland fans there’s no magic in the cup this morning.
Christmas came early for those loyal supporters who braved the cold and dipped into their pockets for a cup tie at the Stadium of Light last night which simmered, then bubbled before finally boiling over in one match-winning moment which warmed the hearts of everyone.
Sunderland fans still talk about the unforgettable thrill of a last-gasp goal scored by a South Korean against one of the super-rich Premier League giants.
And Ki’s winner last night, also scored in front of the North Stand, was every bit as stunning as Ji Dong-won’s last-minute winner against Manchester City almost exactly two years ago.
But while Ji’s winner earned Sunderland three points, Ki’s unlocked the way to Sunderland’s first League Cup semi-final appearance since the 1998-99 season.
By the time the goal came – just a couple of minutes from the end of extra-time, with penalties beckoning – Sunderland had done enough to deserve their progress.
They had faced down a superior side over almost 120 minutes of testing football, never losing their nerve or their belief and the win was a triumph for the collective determination Gus Poyet is trying to ingrain in his players; that desire to go on against the odds and as long as it takes.
It is what Sunderland needed to succeed in last night’s cup tie and it is what Sunderland will need if they are to pull off the improbable task of staying up this season.
Poyet made three changes for the game with Andrea Dossena, Craig Gardner and Adam Johnson coming in for Phil Bardsley, Ki Sung-Yueng and Fabio Borini – although all three players who stepped down would be on the pitch at the final whistle.
Chelsea made eight changes from the side which beat Crystal Palace at the weekend but still looked a formidable on paper.
And even though Eden Hazard – Sunderland’s slayer in the recent league game – was left on the bench, usual dangerman Frank Lampard made a start.
Sunderland passed the ball well in the opening few minutes but it was Chelsea who made all the running in terms of going for goal.
Andre Schurrle cut in from the left to test Vito Mannone with a shot across the keeper in the third minute; William produced an effort from 25 yards out three minutes later which was a little less of a test for the former-Arsenal keeper.
Soon afterwards Schurrle sent a free-kick well wide of the target but Sunderland were more than holding their own in the face of these hopeful efforts and the quarter-hour arrived with them looking comfortable, passing the ball around well and Emanuele Giaccherini looking particularly lively in possession with some lovely flicks and touches.
Schurrle might have caused real problems in the 18th minute when he turned Sunderland inside out down the right but his low ball across the six-yard box was not punished.
A foul on Adam Johnson by David Luiz in the 19th minute offered Seb Larsson the chance to put a free-kick in from deep on the right and Giaccherini might have rounded off a fine start with a goal but the ball stuck under his feet at the far post.
One of the best pieces of passing football of the season from Sunderland midway through the first half failed to bring a clear goal-scoring opportunity as Craig Gardner brought the ball down on the edge of the area.
But it did warm up a sparse crowd at the Stadium of Light, as did the anger at David Luiz’s bodycheck of the sprinting Giaccherini in the 25th minute.
Kevin De Bruyne had escaped a booking for a clear foul on the Italian earlier in the game but Luiz was not so lucky.
Sunderland evened the card count up just before the half-hour when Dossena was booked for a foul on Willian.
And while there was no argument about either card, there was a touch of controversy just after the half-hour when Dossena crossed from the left and full-back Cesar Azpilcueta handled as he blocked.
It would have been harsh for Chelsea to have the penalty awarded against them but to the Sunderland crowd it felt just like another 50:50 decision this season that had not gone their way.
After a decent spell of home pressure without a clear cut chance, Chelsea attacked in the 36th minute with Willain driving a shot across goal and narrowly wide from the right.
And then disaster almost struck a minute later when the otherwise flawless Wes Brown loitered and was dispossessed by Azpilcueta who ushered the ball forward to Samuel Eto’o,
The striker looked favourite to score but Brown sprinted back to recover the situation, muscling him off the ball, although the Chelsea man felt he might have shouts for a penalty himself.
Going into the break there was no doubt Chelsea had been the better side with the better chances but Sunderland had done much they could be pleased with and would have been hopeful going into the break.
All that hard work though was overturned within seconds of the restart when Chelsea scored from the kick-off.
No-one tracked Azpilcueta’s run down the right from Schurrle’s pass and Lampard and Cattermole bundled the ball over the line.
Mannone scooped the ball back into play - a move which merited the first use of Hawkeye at the stadium - but it was obvious to those watching that the ball was clearly over the line.
It could have got worse a minute later when Gardner and Cattermole were on a different wavelength and a pass back went straight to Eto’o, just outside Sunderland’s 18-yard-box only for the African to send his low snapshot inches wide of Mannone’s left-hand post.
And then De Bruyne robbed Larsson midway inside the Sunderland half in the 55th minute and Mannone was forced into a stunning fingertip save to deny the resulting thunderbolt from the right-wing.
As the hour-approached Lampard tried his luck with a couple of pile-drivers from distance and at this stage Sunderland were just trying to stay in the game.
Proceedings were briefly held up for treatment to Azpilcueta after a rare Sunderland attack in which Larson had a shot charged down and Johnson sliced the loose ball horribly wide.
Poyet took the opportunity to bring on Ki in place of Gardner – a popular move with the crowd who really rate the on-loan Swansea man, although the Brummie received applause as he left.
A pitch invader of true village idiot proportions provided light entertainment while the Chelsea defender was being treated but the break energised the crowd and the home team and Cattermole’s long range shot from distance, while always hopeful, tested Schwarzer on his line and enhanced the decibel levels further.
Azpilcueta was unable to continue and was replaced by Michael Essien as substitutes came on thick and fast for the closing stages - former Newcastle man Demba Ba booed on for Eto’o; Borini replacing Johnson as the game approached the final quarter-hour.
Sunderland had been struggling to make any inroads after that goalmouth scramble.
And as Chelsea pressured, Brown was called on for a vital interception to a right-wing cross which sent the ball spiralling just wide of his goal before the substitutions began in earnest.
Schurrle might have put the tie beyond doubt in the 78th minute when he surged past two players and drove a powerful right foot shot across Mannone which the keeper beat away.
And then in the 80th minute Ba drove a dropping volley across the Sunderland goal from the right which flashed wide of the far post.
With the scoreline still 1-0 though Sunderland remained in it in the dying minutes and a buzz went up in the 84th minute when the Black Cats won a corner and Larsson’s delivery from the left put Schwarzer under pressure.
It’s probably true to say that only the most optimistic Sunderland fan would have hoped for an equaliser at that stage.
But those optimists would have been bang on the money as Sunderland levelled in the 89th minute.
Cattermole deserved great credit for hanging onto the ball midway inside his own half under pressure from Chelsea players and the home crowd.
But his composure bought him time to drive a ball straight up to the pitch to Giaccherini who advanced to the 18-yard box and passed forward to Altidore on the left.
The American was bundled off the ball as he tried to find the target but the ball ran free to Borini on the right of goal and he drove home a low shot from the narrowest possible angle through Luiz’s legs on the line.
It was a wonderfully nicked goal but the Italian could have doubled his hero status in timed added on from another breakaway, only to delay his shot, which allowed Gary Cahill to make the bravest of last-ditch blocks.
Chelsea started extra time well with Ba crashing a shot wide before defender David Luiz brought a fantastic stop out of Mannone on his line.
Sunderland responded, getting the ball up the other end for a few minutes of real pressure, roared on by the home fans, which never translated into efforts on goal,
They had a great chance in the 10th minute of time added on though when Dossena crossed from the left and Borini blasted wide at the far post.
The second-half of extra-time produced more in the way of excitement with a goal-bound Larsson free-kick, after Giaccherini was fouled by Essien, being blocked out to Ki whose shot was turned goalwards by Altidore only for Essien to save a certain goal from three yards out,
Chelsea went straight up to the other end where Ba was narrowly squeezed out by O’Shea at the near post from a right-wing cross.
Then a Larrson centre from the right then reached Ki whose looping header was goal all the way until Schwarzer tipped it over the bar at full-stretch. The resulting corner saw Celustka turn a shot wide as the game built towards penalties.
But then came one last deep cross into the box from the right, Borini in the centre got the ball out to Ki on the left and the South Korean stepped inside two challenges and drove a low right-foot shot just inside Schwarzer’s left-hand post to send the Stadium of Light into ecstasies.