There’s little doubt heading into the Capital One Cup Final that Sunderland are the underdogs. Manchester City have been in electric form this season, with their tally of well over 100 goals in all competitions putting them firmly in the running for the quadruple. In Alvaro Negredo, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko they have, arguably, the finest strikeforce in English football.
Conversely, while Sunderland have improved since the calendar flipped to 2014, they are still in the relegation battle, and have the unenviable tag of being the Premier League’s bottom team on Christmas Day – a feat that usually goes hand in hand with relegation.
Only West Brom have escaped such a fate, but Sunderland have shown signs under the stewardship of Gus Poyet that they can kick on and maybe even spring what could be the surprise of the season by beating City in the Capital One Cup Final. After all, they did defeat the champions of England to get there.
Manchester United may not be the force they were as they sauntered to league glory last season, but the Black Cats’ two-legged win showed a spirit and strength that has characterised their form since the turn of the year. A 2-1 home win was cancelled out by a 1-0 loss in normal time at Old Trafford. But the disappointment of being so close did not weigh too heavy, as Phil Bardsley – one of the heroes of this year’s tournament – weighed in with an important goal with minutes to play.
Yet the pendulum still had one more swing left, as Javier Hernandez popped up with seconds left to play to set up a tense penalty shootout. In front of the away crowd and having been robbed of victory when the turf of Wembley was so close, any side could have been forgiven for losing their heads in a spot-kick lottery. But in one of the worst shootouts in domestic cup history, Sunderland were able to take a 2-1 win and dare to dream of walking up the steps at the national stadium to lift a major trophy.
The way in which Sunderland kept their nerve despite numerous knocks has the hallmarks of a side that is capable to defying the odds in the Final. With City likely to score – lets face it, it will probably happen – the North East side will have to show resilience, as they did over two legs against United and in an extra-time win over Chelsea in the Round 5.
Confidence is a big factor in football. Poyet and senior members of the squad will surely point at their previous successes in the dressing room at Wembley, which could just provide the belief that the players need to go out and defy the odds against City.
Beating United in the Semi-Finals was a terrific result even if it ultimately comes on the way to being runners-up. But the sense of optimism it brings could just be the deciding factor over the 90 minutes at Wembley.
Could we see a shock? Quite possibly, after all, Sunderland have already surprised one side from Manchester in this season’s Capital One Cup.
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