#daretodream has been the theme of Sunderland’s Capital One Cup progress to their first Wembley final of the 21st century.
Launched ahead of the semi-finals against Premier League champions Manchester United, the hashtag will be used by the Sunderland Echo all this month on its coverage of the exciting journey which leads down Wembley Way.
But #daretodream could just as well be attached to the 10-day spell which has stirringly transformed Sunderland’s season in such spectacular fashion.
This has been the bleakest of campaigns until recent times – the Paolo Di Canio debacle and subsequent fall-out, the collection of just one point from the first 24, the run which at one point left rock-bottom five points adrift of safety…
In its worst moments, the only dream seemed to be that it would soon be over.
Today, the Black Cats sit in 14th place – five points above bottom club Cardiff City – thanks to the Wearsiders’ first back-to-back league wins of the campaign.
More than that, they have reached the Capital One Cup final on the back of a truly unforgettable evening at Old Trafford and now, in the last 16 of the FA Cup, face a winnable home game against Southampton.
All this accomplished in the last stage of a punishing schedule of games which ran Wednesday, Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday.
Off the top of my head, I cannot think of 10 days of such significant uplift in the club’s recent history.
And at the end of it came Saturday’s stunning 3-0 victory at Newcastle United – the perfect end to a challenging set of games.
The transformation in mood on the terraces and performances on the pitch Gus Poyet has engineered over the last three months is little short of remarkable.
All done without posturing and preening or any sense of self-importance – the criticism regularly aimed at his predecessor Di Canio.
The achievements of getting past Kidderminster in the cup and Stoke in the league were low key but commendable. Both a case of “job done”.
But the triumphs over Manchester United and Newcastle, completed in such memorable fashions, were footballing gold for the club and its fans, and both accomplished in the space of less than a fortnight.
But while getting past one United was the ultimate in nail-biting, tension and late drama, the victory over the other at the weekend was a stroll in St James’s Park in comparison.
And all that is an endorsement of the work being done by the Premier League’s first Uruguayan boss.
Talking to the Echo, Poyet has spoken week by week of his belief and his faith that things have been steadily going in the right direction; that pieces in the puzzle were slowly dropping into place, even if it did occasionally feel like one step forwards, one step back.
Now it is four consecutive steps in the right direction and that last one, on Saturday, being a derby won, offered a release for all the anguish and angst which had built up over the months where Sunderland lay submerged in the bottom three.
While Paolo’s 3-0 win on the same ground proved to be a mirage, a false dawn, Gus’s feels like the real thing.
It was a third clean sheet in a row for Sunderland, with a goalkeeper and back four which now picks itself.
Adam Johnson is once again the £10million man Sunderland fans first dreamed of signing, with seven goals in seven games. England form.
Sunderland’s loan stars, Ki Sung-Yueng and Fabio Borini, continue to shine, while the maturing Jack Colback had arguably his best game for the club.
Even Jozy Altidore, so long a disappointment, is coming to the party with displays of real character – his last two games for Sunderland have been among his best two.
And the man Poyet has pursued so single-mindedly since his own arrival at the Stadium of Light – Liam Bridcutt – looked a Premier League player on his debut.
Beyond that, you have to say – what a place to put it all together – it was a pretty much complete performance at the home of noisy neighbours that have, let us not forget, spent much of the season pushing towards the last of the Champions League places.
We should remember, too, that despite taking only four points from their last 18, they have only dropped as low as eighth.
But they have been second best to Sunderland this season – felled by Borini’s blaster at the Stadium of Light in October and put to the sword at St James’s Park.
And all this achieved by Sunderland without £12m main striker Steven Fletcher (the other Sunderland goalscorer in that last derby), the ultra-competitive Lee Cattermole or exciting new signing Ignacio Scocco.
For Sunderland fans, it was a match-day memory to savour – and boy did they savour it over the weekend! Even Iron Mike Tyson got involved.
It is hard to blame those fans for making such hay while the sun shines – they may have won the last three and be unbeaten in five, but prior to that (the two Peter Reid wins aside) it has been pretty much 30 years of derby pain or humiliation for the Wearsiders.
Now those long-suffering fans can genuinely dare to dream – for it is clear from what we’ve seen on and off the pitch, that Gus is a man with a plan.
I suppose, despite the understandable euphoria, we should remember that, this being Sunderland, it could still go belly up.
Three of Sunderland’s next four league games involve Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool, by the end of which, the Black Cats might have to cope with being back in the bottom three again.
That’s why – while some are already dreaming of Wembley Way – Poyet and his players can only afford to concentrate on the road which leads to the big game against Hull this weekend.
Sunderland fans should not stress too much about the future right now though, not when their club looks to be in such safe hands.
The hard-nosed realists would say nothing has yet been achieved and in one sense they’d be right – not Premier League safety, not silverware.
But football is about days to remember and treasure and when you add the home wins over Newcastle and Manchester City in with the cup run, the steady revival, the increasingly impressive display and these amazing last 10 days, it’s hard not to feel you’ve been part of a special season already.
The 3-0 win over the Magpies just put the cap on it.
With nothing else left to play for this season, Saturday’s derby was Newcastle’s cup final; Sunderland still have a bona fide one to look forward to.
And after the events of the last few months, of the last few days, of the weekend gone, Sunderland and their fans have earned the right to #daretodream.