Manchester United 2-1 Sunderland AET : Mannone sends Black Cats to Wembley (Please can I have this as title instead of Manchester United 2-1 Sunderland AET : Match Report)
At times, this brilliant sport comes down to sheer desire.
Sunderland wanted a Wembley date more than their opponents Manchester United. Their players possessed an added sense of hunger, with former Red Devils Wes Brown and Phil Bardsley playing tirelessly. The travelling Mackems sung themselves hoarse for two hours and were duelly rewarded by Vito Mannone as the Italian keeper saved heroically from Rafael.
Coming into the game, David Moyes's side would have to overturn Sunderland's slender one-goal advantage, courtesy of Fabio Borini's penalty a fortnight ago. And with the so-called "fear factor" associated with Old Trafford now supposedly gone, Gus Poyet had every right to be confident in the hope of a Wembley final against Manchester City on 2 March. Nonetheless, the confident aired by the Uruguayan boss must have been diminished after the un-marked Jonny Evans headed in at the back-post following a corner. It was a prototype of the basic errors Poyet would have warned his side against making. John O'Shea, who spent twelve years at Old Trafford, lost Evans in the crowded penalty area, only for the Northern Ireland defender to deliver a damaging blow and gleefully head past Mannone, who had saved brilliantly from Danny Welbeck two minutes earlier. If the score remained the same, the game would proceed to extra-time, where Nemanja Vidic's header fourteen days ago would count significantly in favour of the hosts.
Sunderland responded well to going down and carried their revival into the second-half, generally becoming the better side in the second forty-five. Marcos Alonso's fine half-volley whistled past David De Gea's post as the Black Cats threatened to equalise and consequently thwart the possibility of a Manchester derby cup final. All the same, the last most meaningful opportunity fell to the hosts in the last minute of normal time as an Adnan Januzaj free-kick was wonderfully saved by Mannone, who has undeniably been incredible for the struggling Mackems this season. With the prospect of an extra thirty minutes inevitable, United harboured the advantage as regulation time came into play.
At half-time, there was talk of even the back-room staff of both sets of clubs were bewildered by the advantage regulations. But by the time Januzaj saw his shot at glory impeded, there were not too many groans around the iconic Old Trafford. The man in the stands, Sir Alex Ferguson, was renown for his defecit-overturning capabilities, but somehow we didn't all expect the same from Moyes.
The collective tension shared by the United faithful, developed from the nail-biting and support, could have been eased by Javier Hernandez after the Mexican was expertly found by Januzaj, only to sidefoot frustratingly wide as it seemed fatigue was getting to him just before the culmination of the first half of the supplementary half-and-hour.
A few minutes after Lee Mason had infuriated Poyet and his players for not sending off Chris Smalling for a professional foul on Steven Fletcher, the former Brighton boss's enmity was put to bed after Phil Bardsley's shot squirmed through De Gea's fingers and into the net, sparking wild celebrations from Poyet, the players and fans alike. It was the goal they thought would send them to Wembley to face Manchester City.
But it is the unpredictability of the beautiful game which makes it the best sport on the planet. As Wembley looked a distant possibility for David Moyes's men, Januzaj combined well with Smalling, who should not have been on the pitch, to assist Hernandez as the 25 year-old finished into the roof of the net, the root of crazy celebrations around Old Trafford as the Mexican forced the game into a penalty shoot-out, sparing De Gea's blushes.
In what was an unbelievable spot-kick shoot-out, Craig Gardner began the formalities by putting it over the bar, his disheartening effort matched equally by Danny Welbeck as the England striker skied wide. Then, it was a story of Fletchers, as Steven saw his shot saved while Darren snuck it past the diving Mannone. Marcos Alonso fended off the intimidation provided by the United fans behind the goal with a composed, accomplished finish before Januzaj's tame effort was thwarted. After Ki sent De Gea the wrong way and substitute Phil Jones cleared the bar, Sunderland were in the ascendancy, leading 3-1 and needing only one more penalty to book a trip to Wembley. It was down to Adam Johnson, formerly of United's fierce rivals City, to score and face his former side in the final on 2 March. However, the in-form winger's penalty was dramatically saved by De Gea, making amends for his disappointing error for Bardsley's goal. All the same, it was left to Vito Mannone to send the Mackams to Wembley as the Italian saved from Rafael. He repaid the 9,00 travelling Sunderland faithful with a memory they will surely cherish. What does 2 March have in store? A story reminiscent of Wigan's historic FA Cup win last season as underdogs against City. We will just have to wait and see.