REMEMBERING THE ROAD TO WEMBLEY
A LOOK BACK AT SUNDERLAND’S 2013-14 LEAGUE CUP RUN.
In 2014, Gus Poyet’s Sunderland reached their first cup final in a generation. The struggling Premier League side overcame the odds and with the famed ‘magic of the cup’ made it to the League Cup final to play Manchester City at Wembley. Next month will be four years since we dared to dream and here we will look back on Sunderland’s road to Wembley.
While it was Gus Poyet who took Sunderland to the national stadium, it was Paolo Di Canio at the helm for the start of the cup run. The Second-Round fixture against MK Dons at the Stadium of Light saw a 4-2 victory kick off Sunderland’s run, but the dream was almost dashed before it ever began. The Di Canio era was full of poor performances and disappointing results and the start of the 2013-14 season and this was almost one of them. With 78 minutes played, Sunderland found themselves 2-0 down to League one’s MK Dons. However, a 12-minute comeback saved Sunderland from a cup embarrassment. Jozy Altidore pulled one back in the 78th minute, getting his first (and almost last) goal for the club, before substitute Connor Wickham got a two-minute brace to put Sunderland in the lead. Adam Johnson got the fourth goal in the final minutes of the game and Sunderland saw themselves through to the third round, just.
After a poor start to the season, sitting bottom of the Premier League, Di Canio was sacked as Sunderland manager and the search was on for the next man to take the hot seat. However, in the meantime Sunderland had a Third Round fixture at home to Peterborough United. In stepped caretaker manager Kevin Ball. Life without Di Canio got off to a good start, with a comfortable 2-0 win. Summer signings Emanuele Giaccherini and Valentin Roberge got themselves on the score sheet to see Sunderland through to the next round of the competition. With the turmoil that surrounded the sacking of Di Canio, without a manager and rooted bottom of the league, you could be forgiven for thinking Wembley was a very distant dream at this point of the season.
The Fourth Round saw Sunderland face their first real test of the competition in Southampton. Despite the arrival of Gus Poyet, the Red and Whites were still struggling in the league and expectation was low in the Stadium of Light, as less than 16,000 fans turned up to see Sunderland claim a 2-1 win and make it through to the quarter final. Goals for Phil Bardsley and Sebastian Larsson were enough to upset Mauricio Pochettino’s team. Just like that Sunderland found themselves in a quarter final and the murmurs of Wembley began to pick up.
The Quarter-Final saw Sunderland again drawn at home, this time to Chelsea. Anticipation was high for this match, everyone knew it would be a tough task for Poyet’s team to steal a win, but steal it they did. Jose Mourinho fielded a weakened Chelsea side, making eight changes from their previous weekend league fixture and Sunderland fans sensed an opportunity. Just one minute into the second half Frank Lampard gave Chelsea the lead. In the dying minutes, as Sunderland once again looked to be heading out the cup, substitute Fabio Borini came back to haunt his former club and take the tie to extra time. In the 118th minute, with two minutes to go, another substitute Ki Sung-Yueng cut inside and thumped the ball into the bottom corner sending Sunderland into the semi-final. Chants of ‘Kiiiiii’ rang around the stadium and the Wembley dream was two games away from becoming reality.
Sunderland were drawn against Manchester United for the semi final with the first leg to be played at home. Normally a Man Utd victory would be assumed but the Red Devils were struggling in their first season without Sir Alex Ferguson and with David Moyes now in charge, everyone knew Sunderland could pull off an upset. The first leg set Sunderland up with a 2-1 lead. After an own goal from Ryan Giggs and an equaliser from Nemanja Vidić, a controversial Borini penalty decided the game giving Sunderland their first win over United since 2000.
Sunderland were just 90 minutes away from Wembley. All they had to do was survive a trip to Old Trafford. With 9000 travelling fans with them, Poyet’s men were ready for a battle. The game saw one of the most dramatic cup semi finals in recent memory. Sunderland held on to their first leg lead for 37 minutes until Johnny Evans levelled the aggregate score. A tense second half saw neither team get the goal they needed and the match headed into extra time.
Then, in the 119th minute, a shot from Bardsley was fumbled by the hands of David De Gea and Sunderland were all set to go to Wembley. Until one final twist in the tale. Two minutes later Javier Hernandez saved United with a close-range goal and took the match to penalties. With nerves higher than ever, Craig Gardner stepped up to take the first penalty of the shootout, and missed. First up for United was Danny Welbeck, well-liked by fans following a successful loan spell a few years earlier. Welbeck stepped up and sent the penalty high and wide. Sunderland were still in it and next up was Steven Fletcher who too, missed. Darren Fletcher then got the first goal of the shootout before Sunderland replied with debutant Marcos Alonso putting the score at 1-1. Adnan Januzaj failed to score while Ki gave Sunderland the lead. Phil Jones was next and sent his effort too high. After Jones was Johnson who had his effort saved. The deceive penalty fell to United defender Rafael. He placed his penalty well towards the bottom corner but a fantastic save from Vito Mannone saw Sunderland make history and reach their first Cup Final since 1985.
Sunderland fans dared to dream of Wembley and on the 2nd March 2014 40,000 Mackems invaded London to see their team face Manchester City. The Black Cats needed one more upset on this incredible journey to cement their place in red and white folklore. Just 10 minutes into the final Sunderland took the lead through Borini and the dream that became reality was within reach. However, the class of City showed, and goals from Yaya Touré, Samir Nasri, and Jesús Navas gave them a 3-1 win, and Sunderland finished this run League Cup runners up.
While the story may not have a happy ending, the cup run put together by Sunderland, which included three managers, near losses, upsets, penalties and plenty of drama, will be fondly remembered.