With 20 games gone in the Premier League season, Sunderland were at the very bottom of the table after a turbulent opening half of the campaign.
Much was expected of Paolo Di Canio, who had come in and helped to drag the Black Cats kicking and screaming away from the drop zone last term, with the controversial Italian having had a full summer to draft in players more suited to his playing style.
But just a matter of weeks into the campaign another jarring turn halted their progress, as Di Canio was sacked and replaced by Gus Poyet. The Uruguayan had impressed at Brighton in the Championship, but was completely unproven at the highest level. When a new boss comes in, teams usually see a spike in fortunes, with the feel-good factor frequently yielding points.
However, Poyet’s reign began in underwhelming fashion, and it looked to all intents and purposes as if Sunderland were slowly drifting towards the trap door, and a spot in the second tier of English football.
But a heavy 4-1 away win at Fulham has proven to be the turning point in their fortunes, with a good run of results having catapulted them almost out of the drop zone with games in hand. All of this has coincided with an excellent Capital One Cup run, which now has the potential to cement a completely different atmosphere at the Stadium of Light.
Having eased into the last four, few predicted that a spot in the Final could be on the cards for the North East side as they prepared to face Manchester United over two legs. After all, despite their woes, David Moyes’ men had the edge in big tournament experience and winning silverware.
Yet, a shock 3-3 aggregate scoreline after extra time in the second encounter set up a penalty shoot-out, which the strugglers took full advantage of.
Now the problems that threated their status as a top tier side seem a distant memory for Sunderland, who face the prospect of lifting a major trophy after rising from the relegation zone. Confidence plays a big role in the game, and lifting the Capital One Cup at the home of English football could provide the springboard for Sunderland to really kick on.
Manchester City are undoubtedly favourites, but anything can happen in a one-off game, so the Wearsiders will travel to the capital in buoyant mood, and in full knowledge that their side could be about to play a season-defining game.
Who knows, if Sunderland can defy the odds and take the Capital One Cup back home with them, it could be the remedy to right the wrongs of a difficult start to the season.
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