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Darren Ash gives Sunderland Football Club due praise after dragging themselves out of the relegation zone and securing a place in the League Cup final.

A week on from Sunderland’s dramatic League Cup semi-final win over Manchester United, the hype on Wearside is alive and kicking.

Wembley bound: Sunderland celebrate dramatic penalty shoot-out versus Manchester United in Capital One Cup semi-final

Sunderland celebrate penalty shoot-out win in Capital One Cup Semi-Final

In a performance that United boss David Moyes described as ‘terrible’ from his players, the Black Cats were able to take the game to extra time despite Jonny Evans’ first half goal.

A Ryan Giggs own goal and a Fabio Borini penalty at the Stadium of Light helped the home side to a 2-1 aggregate lead after the first leg, and with away goals only coming into play after extra time, the 1-0 lead at Old Trafford was not enough for United.

Late drama ensued when Phil Bardsley’s speculative shot from range was turned into the net by a despondent and embarrassed David de Gea with just two minutes of extra time remaining.

Javier Hernandez spoiled the travelling fans’ party with the final kick of the match to send it to a decisive penalty shoot-out. Ten penalties were taken, and just three converted. Thankfully, for Sunderland they scored two of them and secured a trip to Wembley.

After such an arduous league term it was welcome relief and joy for all connected with the club. They are not out of trouble, far from it in fact, following the solitary point gained from seven games under Paolo Di Canio at the start of the season.

However, Sunderland have 20 points from 16 games with Poyet at the helm. Their most recent result saw them cling on to a slender 1-0 victory against Stoke at home thanks revitalised winger Adam Johnson’s first half winner.

The former Manchester City and Middlesbrough ace has been in terrific form, scoring or assisting in each of the side’s last seven goals. The England international scored a hat-trick at fellow strugglers Fulham at Craven Cottage in early January, and his latest goal helped Sunderland leapfrog Fulham and West Ham out of the relegation zone for the first time since August.

The Black Cats are now just a point shy of Stoke and just three behind 11th placed Swansea in what is one of the tightest relegation battles in Premier League history. Gus Poyet has helped to steady the ship and turn things around at the Stadium of Light, something chairman Ellis Short and the supporters will be delighted about.

Despite their upturn in form under the Uruguayan, they will be heading into the final of the League Cup as huge underdogs. They will be coming up against free-scoring Manchester City, a side that beat West Ham in their own semi-final 9-0 on aggregate. Some corners of the football world are even suggesting that City – who put five past Tottenham at White Hart Lane in midweek – could be the most complete side in world football at the present time.

However, Sunderland are 90 minutes away from glory. If they can conjure a miraculous victory it would be a massive upset and an incredible pre-cursor for the remainder of their league campaign. But even if they fail tow in, they will still be able to hold their heads up high. A season that started in turmoil has been steadied and Sunderland have done a terrific job to even reach the final. As long as City don’t thrash Sunderland by four or five goals, you have to imagine that Sunderland fans will go back to the North East with smiles on their faces.

In the immediate future the Black Cats make the short journey to fierce neighbours Newcastle United with their tails up. A win in the explosive Tyne-Wear derby could propel them to a position of breathing space, and you would be a brave man to bet against them staying in the division.

For Gus and Co. it appears to be onwards and upwards.

Originally published at outside90.com

Post written by Darren Ash (@AshDarren) for Outside 90
Blog: outside90.com, Twitter: @Outside90

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