1. ITV Report

Daring to dream for an historic victory

The statue of Bob Stokoe at the Stadium of Light. Photo: ITV Tyne Tees

Don't try and make sense of it, just go with the flow.

Don't try and work out how Sunderland can possibly beat Manchester City, just marvel at the mischief of it.

This shouldn't be happening but it is. A Football club speeding down the road to hell turned off and found the road to Wembley.

Sunderland flags on Wembley way. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Context is important here. Sunderland is a football club that wilfully opted out of reality just under a year ago. The appointment of Paolo Di Canio as Head Coach set in motion a chain of events that left most fans abandoning all hope by the middle of September. There were rantings, ravings and fall outs.

Former Sunderland manager Paolo di Canio. Credit: PA wire

There was a disastrous managerial restructuring, a baffling summer recruitment policy, an unsuccessful revolution from Di Canio and a successful revolution from a dressing room that had had enough of Di Canio.

But most importantly there was a team producing woeful performances that sank to the bottom of the Premier League and looked certain to stay there.

Gus Poyet is 'the hero of this story'. Credit: PA wire

Then Gus Poyet arrived. He's the hero of this story, whatever happens at Wembley and whatever league Sunderland end up in next season. He's a man with a plan. He knows where he wants Sunderland to go and he knows how he wants them to get there.

But it wasn't an instant transformation. There were teething troubles, clunky performances, a rash of red cards and a ridiculous sequence of own goals. And it's not yet a successful transformation, as the bitter Premier League survival battle is still to be won. But it was a transformation, from no hope to something approaching hope.

Young Sunderland fans in the stands against MK Dons. Credit: PA wire

The League Cup run sums it all up really. Dodgy at the start against the MK Dons, magnificent by the end against Chelsea and Manchester United.

Sunderland players celebrated semi-final win over Manchester United. Credit: PA wire

It's been a wild ride, but the final hurdle will be the biggest. Free-scoring, free-spending Manchester City lie in wait at Wembley. Sergio Aguero will be fit and all the other blue superstars will be present and correct. Truth be told not a single Sunderland player would get into this City team, including Adam Johnson, who realised that, and left City for Sunderland.

Adam Johnson (right) used to play for Manchester City. Credit: PA wire

Manuel Pellegrini's men are red hot favourites and it's hard to argue with that logic. But here's the thing. Sunderland no longer deal in logic, and they've developed an odd habit of beating Manchester City. Four times in four seasons. True, all those wins were at the Stadium of Light, but it's something to cling onto.

A generation of Wearsiders are making a cup final pilgrimage for the first time in their lives. The older souls will remember 1992, or the 1985 Milk Cup Final, or the magnificent boys of 1973. But for many, this is virgin territory.

The last time the Black Cats lifted a trophy at Wembley in 1973. Credit: ITV sport

There have been play-off finals (and the bittersweet memories of 1998 will never leave those of us present at the Charlton Athletic game) but no cup finals for 22 years. That's a long time for a club of the size and ambition of Sunderland, but par for the course in the United States of Underachievement that make up North East Football.

The long road to Wembley. Thousands have made the trip for tomorrow's match. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

It seems grimly appropriate that Sunderland's first cup final in a generation arrives hand in hand with yet another relegation fight. But it's all part of the joyous lunacy of it all, as is the fact the Black Cats could yet make two more trips to Wembley this season in the FA Cup.

Statue of Bob Stokoe outside the Stadium of Light. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

It's ridiculous. It's a fairytale that demands a happy ending. It probably won't get one. We all know what's likely to happen.

But the wonderful thing this weekend is that this is Sunderland and anything could happen.

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