A PARTY atmosphere reigned around Sunderland on Friday, as the clock ticked down to the Black Cats’ biggest match in more than 20 years.

All 30,000-plus of Sunderland’s tickets for Sunday’s League Cup final were snapped up within days.

With big-spending Manchester City odds-on favourites to send Gus Poyet’s side home empty-handed, many fans are just determined to enjoy their weekend in the capital, whatever the result.

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Sunderland city centre was a sea of red and white today, with cafes, pubs, shops and offices all having responded to the Foundation of Light’s call to sport club colours.

The front window of the Marie Curie charity shop, in Maritime Terrace, was filled with an SAFC display, featuring old shirts and memorabilia.

Assistant manager Michael Stephenson said: “One of our volunteers put it up on Tuesday and it’s been really popular.”

Michael won’t see the match as he’s working, but said, in hope: “They’re just about daft enough to win it.”

Down the street, the Wembley countdown was a family affair at Coffeea Caban, where husband and wife Mick and Susan Phyall and son David were all serving coffee and cake bedecked in red and white stripes.

Mick, a Sunderland season ticket holder since the 1970s, and David have got their Wembley tickets and will drive south tomorrow.

“I’d love to think we’ll win 2-0,” Mick said. “We’re really looking forward to it.”

While the cup is about romance for the fans, it’s big business for the merchandise men and the casual onlooker might have mistaken the nearby Market Square for Wembley Way itself.

One stall holder, Jack Hollister, said: “I’ve got scarves, T-shirts, flags and the sales are up 100 per cent.

“In the last few days people have really got into it.”

And despite supporting bitter rivals Newcastle United, Jack hopes Sunderland lift the cup – although just because it would be good for business.

Among those buying up their cup final gear was Stephen Rennick, who splashed out on a scarf and a red and white wig.

“If they get an early goal, we’ll get stuffed,” said Stephen, who will be watching from a pub near his home in Langley Park, County Durham.

“But we might sneak a 1-0.”