WITH the frustrated faces of Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Bobby Charlton and Bryan Robson looking on from the Stadium of Light stands, Sunderland took a huge step towards a long-awaited return to Wembley.
The Premier League strugglers continued their excellent cup form by piling the misery on David Moyes' Manchester United by taking a significant – albeit slender – Capital One Cup semi-final first leg lead in to the return in two weeks' time.
Now all the Black Cats have to do to seal a first cup final since 1992 is preserve their advantage at Old Trafford – and that sounds a little less daunting than it might have done during the Ferguson era.
Sunderland were dogged and resilient throughout and had taken the lead in first half stoppage time when Ryan Giggs turned beyond his own goalkeeper under the attentions of Phil Bardsley.
When Nemanja Vidic levelled six minutes after the restart Manchester United should have gone on from there, but Sunderland rallied and actually posed the greater threat until the closing stages.
And the reward for their endeavour was a penalty being awarded in their favour when Tom Cleverley challenged Adam Johnson in the area and Fabio Borini powered the winner in with 25 minutes to go.
It was just a shame there was not more than the 31,547 fans – 4, 800 of which were travelling support - inside the stadium of see it.
But that did not matter to those who were, with Sunderland's first win over Manchester United in 20 matches putting Gus Poyet's men on the verge of a first League Cup final appearance since 1985.
It might have been a rare last four outing for Sunderland but the extensive number of empty seats hardly reflected the importance of the tie.
The reasons behind the lower than expected ticket sales can be debated at length, although there was no doubt about what was at stake: a Wembley cup final.
Such a key fixture in the calendar also marked the first appearance for new signing Marcos Alonso. The loan signing from Fiorentina slotted straight in at left-back as one of seven changes to the side which beat Carlisle in the FA Cup.
That was also the same number made by Moyes, although there was still no outing for Wayne Rooney or Robin Van Persie, so that should have provided Sunderland with a lift beforehand.
Alonso made a bright start too. Had a red and white shirt been more alert in the area, then his excellent cross from the left across goal early on should have led to something. Instead the visitors comfortably cleared.
When the Spaniard got possession he looked comfortable, in both halves. He also showed a willingness to get down the line and the second of his decent crosses almost dropped kindly for Emanuele Giaccherini at the back post.
Despite plenty of promise, however, Manchester United still had the best of the early attempts on goal.
The first saw Danny Welbeck's drive from distance fly in to the arms of Vito Mannone. The second crashed off the top of the bar from Giggs, who once more belied his 40 years with an energetic display until his blunder.
But not even Giggs' incredible fitness levels could prevent him from being the cause of a first half Manchester United goal being ruled out.
The Welshman was standing in an offside position when his backside stopped an Adnan Januzaj effort and even though the rebound was powered over the line, the flag went up.
That was the closest either side had come to a breakthrough until Sunderland broke down the other end in first half stoppage and earned a free-kick for a foul on Steven Fletcher.
Seb Larsson's deep delivery to the back post was side-footed across the six-yard area by Wes Brown and Bardsley slid in with Giggs who appeared to get the last touch to help the ball over the line.
Sunderland had done the first part of their job, gaining a first half advantage. But they needed to find the effectiveness in possession which they lost in the latter stages of the half.
Poor decisions had crept in to Sunderland's play in the ten minutes building up to the opener, but they suddenly had something to hold on to when they emerged for the second half.
But Manchester United were full of intent from the restart. As soon as they claimed possession from Sunderland, they kept plugging away at the home side's box until the equaliser arrived.
That was just six minutes in. When Fletcher flicked Giggs' free-kick behind for a corner, Cleverley floated his delivery to the back post where Vidic beat O'Shea and Brown to head beyond Mannone.
Rather than build on that, Sunderland burst in to life again. Borini had already shaved the side-netting and David De Gea had been forced to make an excellent save to deny Larsson before the Stadium of Light erupted again.
Eight minutes after his introduction, Johnson's brilliant run in to the area earned a clumsy challenge from Cleverley even if there was minimal contact and Sunderland had a penalty.
Borini – already a goal-hero against Newcastle and Chelsea this season - might have looked slightly nervous as he waited for the official's whistle, but his spot-kick was converted with confidence to put Sunderland ahead once more.
Given the way Manchester United had dropped the tempo after the opener, they could have few complaints about falling behind for a second time.
Once Johnson, looking hungry just days after his free-kick against Carlisle, had gone close with a 22-yard drive after a lovely run, there was a greater desire again from the men from Manchester.
Yet Sunderland stayed strong. Players representing Wearside battled for every ball and made every block and challenge count to put them on the verge of a trip to Wembley. Roll on Old Trafford.