Sunderland suffer Wembley heartbreak as Portsmouth snatch pulsating final on penalties
Sunderland suffered another heartbreaking defeat at Wembley after Pompey won a pulsating contest on penalties.
Sunderland had snatched an unlikely lifeline in the dying seconds of extra time to take it to spot kicks, where a Lee Cattermole miss proved crucial.
Pompey scored all five of their efforts to snatch the contest.
Despite neither side seeing this tournament as their priority for the season, the atmosphere crackled and for much of it felt like an FA Cup final.
Both sides brought outstanding support and the noise was deafening.
Right from the off, it was the Black Cats who coped better with the occasion.
They threatened in the first minute, Lewis Morgan cleverly laying off George Honeyman who burst towards the byline. He cut the ball across the box but Will Grigg was just unable to connect as he slid towards goal.
Pompey settled and had the first shot on target when Matt Clarke rose at the back post to meet a free kick won when Omar Bogle made a dangerous run into channel. It was an easy save for McLaughlin.
Sunderland had established dominance of the midfield with Grant Leadbitter impressive, and their only frustration would have been that they did not force the Pompey goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray into action more often.
Lewis Morgan in particular was unable to turn a number of promising openings into shots on target.
But the Celtic loanee forced a good stop when McGeady teed up a cross, headed to the edge of the area where Morgan struck a sweet volley, MacGillivray palming clear and just managing to turn it away from the onrushing Luke O'Nien.
The 22-year-old found himself in space again minutes later but his effort was weak and wide of the far post.
It was in this area that Sunderland were imposing themselves.
The threatening Ronan Curtis and Jamal Lowe were seeing nothing of the ball in advanced areas, while McGeady and Morgan regularly drove into dangerous positions.
It was that forced the first goal, Aiden McGeady brought down as he danced past Nathan Thomspon on the edge of the area.
McGeady stepped up and after his free kick clipped Bogle's shoulder in the wall, MacGillvray was comfortably beaten.
It was a lead that the Black Cats fully deserved at the break.
Stung by their insipid showing, Kenny Jackett's side began to ask questions and Sunderland were indebted to Lee Cattermole for an outstanding covering challenge as Curtis began to drive at goal.
They had an exceptional stroke of luck on the hour mark as Lowe knocked down a long ball through the middle. Brett Pitman took one touch before volleying at goal, beating Jon McLaughlin but seeing his effort strike the foot of the far post.
Thompson then missed a good chance at the back post as a poor defensive header dropped for him, the full back chipping onto the roof of the net.
Sunderland steadied but Pompey continued to threaten, and with fifteen minutes to go they went close as substitute Gareth Evans pounced on an error from Luke O'Nien and driving at goal. His effort had McLaughlin scrambling but flashed wide.
The pressure told with eight minutes to go, Clarke driving towards the byline and teeing up Gareth Evans. His cross to the back post was an excellent one, with Nathan Thompson rising above Reece James to head home.
Sunderland had to dig deep to make it to extra time, Clarke going close from a corner as he got free at the near post.
The Black Cats looked much better for the short break.
In the opening period of extra time they made some good forays forward, with substitute Denver Hume making some impressive runs.
A combination of tiredness and tension meant that for both sides composure was lacking, neither goalkeeper tested in a nevertheless open contest.
The decisive moment looked to have come seven minutes from the end, Jack Baldwin unable to deal with another precise long pass from Clarke.
Lowe took it down and scored with a brilliant chip that left McLaughlin stranded.
But this pulsating final had plenty of twists to come.
Sunderland looked out of gas but one last move got them level. A cross was headed to the edge of the area, where Hume stood it back into the box. Substitute Charlie Wyke kept it alive and Aiden McGeady showed his composure to take a touch and turn home.
Pompey should still have won, Lowe missing a massive chance with just seconds left on the clock.
They eventually won it from the spot, with lee Cattermole the only taker of the ten to miss.
Oli Hawkin's scored the decisive kick, sending McLaughlin the wrong way.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; O'Nien, Flanagan, Baldwin, James (Hume, 87); Leadbitter (Wyke, 94), Cattermole, Honeyman; Morgan (Gooch, 72), McGeady, Grigg (Power, 76)
Subs: Ruiter, McGeouch, Dunne
Portsmouth XI: MacGillivray; Thompson, Clarke, Burgess, Brown; Naylor, Close (Walkes, 112); Curtis (Evans, 55), Pitman, Lowe, Bogle (Hawkins, 69)
Subs: Bass, Haunstrup, May, Vaughan
Bookings: Curtis, 31 Baldwin, 79 McGeady, 89 Evans, 101