Despite the goal that many wondered if we’d ever see, there will be no repeat of last year’s Wembley dream after Sunderland throw away a lead to crash out of the Capital One Cup to Stoke City.
As anticipated, Poyet made seven changes to the side that drew with Burnley. Costel Pantilimon started in goal, while Jones and Coates came in for Brown and van Aanholt at the back. Bridcutt, Gomez, Buckley and Altidore also came in for Cattermole, Larsson, Giaccherini and Wickham, with the latter even missing from the bench.
As for Stoke, former fan favourite (slight exaggeration…), Phil Bardsley made his first return to the Stadium of Light, while Thomas Sorensen was amongst the substitutes as Jack Butland started between the sticks.
It was a bright start for Sunderland, with Will Buckley impressing out wide, and his early low cross picked out Jack Rodwell on the edge of the area, only for the midfielder to fire over the bar. It was a sign of things to come, however, with Rodwell building on his encouraging performance at the weekend with plenty of promising drives forward.
In a very open first half, both sides looked to threaten from distance, with both Rodwell and Diouf particularly keen to shoot, although both were often guilty of dragging their efforts well wide.
And then, it happened!
The question fans ask of the greatest of footballers is ‘Could he do it on a cold, wet Tuesday night against Stoke?’ The likes of Messi, Neymar and Ribery are yet to answer this. But Jozy Altidore has. Does this make the American the greatest footballer of all time? I’ll let you decide…
In truth, it was a very good strike from Jozy. Picking the ball up outside the box with his back to goal, he held of the challenge from the Stoke defender to get himself a yard or two to turn, before firing past Jack Butland, who barely moved.
It was really what Sunderland deserved, but it was still far from one sided, and Stoke continued to threaten when Muniesa was picked out from the left, with Vergini too slow closing down. The left back burst into the box and fired low and hard through the legs of the 6’8” Romanian. Vergini, O’Shea and Pantilimon all should’ve done better.
With the first half balanced finely, it drew to a close with handbags. A strong challenge by Rodwell saw N’Zonzi react by throttling the former Manchester City man. Both picked up a yellow, with N’Zonzi particularly fortunate to remain on the pitch. Things could’ve got a lot worse seconds later, when N’Zonzi collected a poor clearance to fire inches past the post.
He was able to get his shot away, however, by some slow and weak defending by Sebastian Coates, something the Liverpool loanee was guilty of throughout the first half. After a hugely disappointing first 45, Coates was replaced by Patrick van Aanholt at the break, with Billy Jones and Santiago Vergini moving to their natural positions at right back and centre back respectively.
And it was the combination of the two which gave Sunderland their most promising play throughout the second half. Numerous times, Vergini was able to pick the ball up and slice open the Stoke defence with a through ball, although almost every time saw Jones’ cross blocked behind for a corner.
Sunderland’s best chance of the half came from such a Vergini pass, with Will Buckley trying, and failing, to place one past Butland. Shortly after, with the attack clearly unable to score, the Argentinian defender sent an effort whistling over the bar himself from 25 yards.
Despite the pressure, Stoke proved tough to break down, and looked threatening on the counter attack. After Pantilimon tipped Assaidi’s effort past the post for a corner, the ball ended up with Adam Johnson running towards his own goal. With Muniesa on his back, Johnson went down expecting Mike Dean to award the free kick. Sunderland then stopped, as Muniesa again drove into the box to blast one past Pantilimon at his near post, a one the ‘keeper should’ve done far better with again.
Arnautovic should have wrapped up the win for Stoke shortly after, when a cross from the left picked out the Austrian unmarked, only for the Stoke man to volley over.
Despite the arrival of Ricky Alvarez and Danny Graham, his first Sunderland appearance since May 2013, replacing Rodwell and Johnson, Sunderland failed to really threaten again. After Billy Jones tamely headed a poor Alvarez free kick straight at Butland, Costel Pantilimon was called into action at the other end, diving low to the feet of Victor Moses, who appealed in vain for the penalty.
Ultimately though, Sunderland, painfully slow in attack, were unable to beat Butland for a second time on the night, and disappointingly bow out of the Capital One Cup in just the third round.