GUS POYET was beaming with pride last night after witnessing Sunderland seal a place in the Capital One Cup final following a dramatic semi-final victory over Manchester United.
And after calming down from the celebrations with the club's 9,000 fans on the Old Trafford turf, the Black Cats boss then set his sights on going one better by declaring his players can be “winners” at Wembley.
Sunderland's penalty shoot-out success over the Premier League champions last night has set up a mouthwatering showdown with the prolific Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday, March 2.
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It will be a new Wembley debut for Sunderland and it will also be the first time the Wearside club have reached a cup final since losing to Liverpool in the 1992 FA Cup final.
When Poyet does take his squad to North London, he believes that they are capable of ending the 41-year wait to follow up the FA Cup success in 1973 with another major honour.
“What a task it will be against Manchester City, we will try,” said Poyet, after emerging from a celebratory Sunderland dressing room inside Old Trafford.
“I hope we can pick up plenty points in the Premier League before we go there. But when we do we will need to be brave, have a good day and want City not to have a magnificent day with very good players.
“If you want to win something you need to beat the best. We will see what happens.
“There is no better feeling than to be a winner. The players, when they were celebrating, felt like 'yeah we could be winners'.
“It's a game of football and we need to play well when we go there. We need to be spot on. Practically perfect to be able to win. Hopefully we do not have the other and suffer an embarrassing day there.”
When Jonny Evans headed Manchester United level on aggregate at 2-2 in the return leg last night, Sunderland could have caved in.
They knew a goal was required to avoid defeat because of the away goal rule which becomes active after the 90 minutes.
Sunderland stuck to their task and eventually United goalkeeper David de Gea spilled a routine Phil Bardsley drive in the second last minute of extra-time to put Sunderland ahead.
Yet somehow the Red Devils responded immediately. They attacked through Adnan Januzaj and Javier Hernandez converted a cross from close in the 120th minute to force the game to penalties.
Even then in a shambolic penalty shoot-out Sunderland missed three and United missed four before Vito Mannone denied Rafael to send the Wearsiders through.
“It's very difficult to explain, I can't remember another game like this to be involved in,” said Poyet.
“Normally when you score in the last minute you are through. If you miss the first two penalties you don't expect to win it. How we done it? I think we have to ask Vito … he was the difference.
“Vito has been getting better and better. He has been fantastic. When Vito got back to the dressing room, the staff and squad all started to sing his name. There is no better recognition than from the players and staff. He was happy and half embarrassed.”
Sunderland have never won the League Cup and will now look to go one better than the class of 1985 did when they lost to Norwich City.
Poyet said: “I was proud even at 1-0. If we were out at 1-0 after extra time I still felt it was my team playing there.
“They played, believing, pushing the ball round, taking risks, credit to the players because they put an extra bit in to try to go to another level.
“I think it was a great night for a group of players and the fans after a difficult season.
“I thought my players were brave. We were decent. We were a team that did not look like is in a position we are in. We need to go to another level.”