Life as a Sunderland fan has been a rollercoaster in recentyears, with the last couple being particularly disappointing. But who canforget 2013/14, the season when Sunderland ‘dared to dream’?
The previous season saw Sunderland finish 17th inthe Premier League, just one place and 3 points clear of the relegation zone. Despiteflirting with relegation at the end of the season, not once did the Black Catsoccupy the bottom three and following the appointment of Paolo Di Canio asmanager in March, Sunderland remained in the top flight.
The 2013/14 season saw a different story and not only didSunderland drop into the relegation zone, there were long spells at the bottomof the Premier League table. Between thethird match of the season on August 31st against Crystal Palace andthe 22nd game of the season at home to Southampton, Sunderland wereeither 19th or 20th in the Premier League.
On the 22nd September, Di Canio left the cluband Kevin Ball was put in temporary charge until former Chelsea midfielder GusPoyet was appointed as the new permanent manager on the 8th October.
By the time Poyet was in the Stadium of Light hot seat,Sunderland had progressed through the second and third rounds of the LeagueCup. Home wins over MK Dons andPeterborough United were not seen as great victories in what was alreadyturning into a desperate attempt for survival in the English top flight.
2013/14 was a tough seasonfor Sunderland in the league, but one that so nearly brought some silverware toThe Stadium of Light
Prior to the League Cup fourth round match againstSouthampton at home, Sunderland had won just one match in the Premier League, butseeing as that win was against bitter rivals Newcastle United, it felt worthyof lot more than just three points. The Black Cats were performing poorly inthe league, but the same could not be said for their League Cup performances,with a 2-1 win over the Saints resulting in a fifth round draw at home againstChelsea.
Premier League form had still not improved and Sunderlandhad won more games in the League Cup than they had in the league by the timethe match against Chelsea came around on the 17th December. This was a game Sunderland were expected tolose against a team challenging for the Premier League title under JoseMourinho.
With the scores level at 1-1 thanks to a late Fabio Boriniequaliser, the match went into extra-time and it was KiSung-Yueng who came up with the winning goal on 119 minutes to send theSunderland faithful wild.
By this stage, there were only four teams left in thecompetition and if anything, Sunderland wanted to draw West Ham United, whowere the weaker of the remaining clubs. It wasn’t to be and instead Sunderland were paired with ManchesterUnited in a semi-final to be played over two legs.
The first leg was played at the Stadium of Light on the 7thJanuary and at the time, Sunderland were bottom of the Premier Leaguetable. However, the players rose to theoccasion in-front of the home fans and secured a narrow 2-1 lead to take to OldTrafford for the second leg. Sunderlandwere given little chance but a win at Fulham and draw at home with Southamptonin the Premier League had given fans some hope of Premier League survival.
This optimism carried over into the League Cup semi-finalsecond leg and having scored an extra-time equaliser on 119 minutes throughformer Manchester United defender Phil Bardsley, it appeared Sunderland were ontheir way to Wembley.
It wasn’t to be and Javier Hernandez popped up with aninjury time winner to take the tie to penalties. It would have been easy for the Sunderlandplayers to allow their heads to drop but in a shootout which saw severalmisses, Vito Mannone was the hero as he saved Rafael’s penalty to sendSunderland through to the final against all the odds.
The final would be played on the 2nd March, bywhich time Sunderland’s form had improved in the Premier League. Three wins and a draw had moved the BlackCats up to 14th place but they were back in the relegation zone bythe time the final came around against Manchester City.
The Manchester City team facing Sunderland at Wembley wouldgo on to win the Premier League title later that season. Although not quite asstrong as City’s 2017/18 title winning squad, which has earned the accolade ofbeing one of the best teams ever to play in the Premier League according tothis Betwayroundtable discussion, there is no doubt that the City team of 2013/14 wasstill a force to be reckoned with.
It was no surprise that they went into the League Cup finalas very strong favourites.
The game got off to the perfect start for Sunderland, withFabio Borini opening the scoring after only 10 minutes. However, two quick-fire goals in the secondhalf and a late third from Jesus Navas put pay to any chance of lifting thetrophy and the Sunderland players were forced to settle for runners-up medals.
More drama was to come in the final stages of the season andSunderland secured their Premier League status with some remarkable wins atChelsea and Manchester United.
The 2013/14 campaign was one which will live long in thememory of Sunderland fans and despite the long battle against relegation, thehope of a first major trophy since 1973 was as close as it had been for a longtime.