SUNDERLAND are 90 minutes from Wembley after beating Manchester United in the first leg of their Capital One Cup semi-final, but Gustavo Poyet insists his side will not start as favourites when the two teams lock horns again at Old Trafford in a fortnight's time.
A Ryan Giggs own goal and a penalty from Fabio Borini ensured Sunderland take a 2-1 lead across the Pennines, although Nemanja Vidic's header at the start of the second half means their advantage is a slender one.
Nevertheless, the Wearsiders will spend the next two weeks dreaming of a first League Cup final appearance in almost 30 years, and a first final outing at Wembley since 1992.
With away goals not counting in the second leg until the end of extra-time, Manchester United will have to beat Sunderland by two clear goals to knock them out in 90 minutes, although they could have their two leading forwards available for the decisive second leg.
“Are we the favourites now? No chance,” said Poyet, who has now seen his side record six cup victories this season, three more than they have managed in the Premier League. “It's Man United, probably with (Wayne) Rooney and (Robin) van Persie coming back in two weeks time.
“We are in a better situation because we won the first of the two games, but playing Man United away, anything can happen. We need to make sure we put in another very good performance over there.”
Manchester United have a proud record of overturning deficits, but their recent home record provides more hope to Sunderland as they plot another memorable success in two weeks time.
Sunday's FA Cup defeat to Swansea means David Moyes' side have lost four of their last five domestic home games, a record that would have been unthinkable for most of the last two decades, and which is bound to pile further pressure on a group of players who appear utterly devoid of confidence.
As a result, Poyet will urge his players to be positive in the second leg, rather than look to defend their first-leg lead.
“The idea is to go there and try to win, because if you try to defend at Old Trafford, you're going to concede three or four,” he said. “They have quality players, and there was a moment here in the first half, for ten or 15 minutes, when they were very good.
“Their passing and interchanging meant it wasn't easy for us, but we managed not to give them too many opportunities or clear chances. If we can take that to Old Trafford, then we will have a chance.”
Before tackling the second leg, Sunderland face crucial Premier League matches against Fulham and Southampton, and Poyet admits his side's biggest challenge is to transfer their fantastic cup form to the league environment.
They remain four points adrift of safety at the foot of the table, and while a first victory over Manchester United in 20 attempts should bolster confidence, a League Cup final appearance would count for little if Sunderland were to find themselves in the Championship at the end of the season.
“I need to find out why we are somehow capable of beating top teams and being so clinical in the cups, but we cannot do the same in the league,” said Poyet. “That is part of my job, and I am going to keep looking at different things we are doing in the cup.
“It could be our positioning, it could be how high we defend, it could be mentality, it could be the players. I need to find the reason because at the moment something is happening, and I need to find out why.”
Last night's game featured a hugely impressive debut from Marcos Alonso, despite the full-back only having completed a handful of training sessions since signing on loan from Fiorentina.
The Spaniard is unlikely to be the only new player arriving at the Stadium of Light this month, with Brighton midfielder Liam Bridcutt having handed in a transfer request yesterday afternoon in an attempt to force through a move to the North-East.
Sunderland had a £2.5m bid for the midfielder rejected earlier this month, and while Brighton had been hoping to hold out for £5m, yesterday's developments have changed the complexion of the ongoing discussions.
There is likely to be an exit from Wearside in the next few days, with Cabral poised to join Genoa on a season-long loan, with a view to a permanent move in the summer.