SUNDERLAND suffered Wembley heartache after being hit by a spectacular quick-fire second half double against Manchester City.
But Gus Poyet’s men could hold their heads high for their display in an absorbing Capital One Cup final after pushing Man City to the limits and genuinely threatening to lift their first piece of silverware since 1973.
Fabio Borini gave Sunderland a dream start when he got the wrong side of Vincent Kompany to Adam Johnson’s ball over the top and produced a pinpoint finish into the far corner.
The Black Cats continued to worry Manuel Pellegrini’s side, but the game changed within 60 seconds early in the second half when City scored two spectacular goals.
First, Yaya Toure swept the ball into the top corner from 25 yards before Samir Nasri used the outside of his right boot to power a shot beyond Vito Mannone.
Substitute Steven Fletcher fluffed a great chance to level with a minute to go, before City sealed their victory on the counter-attack moments later through Jesus Navas.
Seb Larsson was the surprise inclusion in the Sunderland starting line-up, with the Swedish international taking the place of Jozy Altidore.
Larsson’s selection saw Fabio Borini play in a central striker role, with Lee Cattermole and Wes Brown also returning to the side in place of Santiago Vergini and the cup-tied Liam Bridcutt.
There was also a spot on the bench for Steven Fletcher after a month out with an Achilles problem.
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero returned from injury too after a month on the sidelines with a hamstring strain.
Aguero, who replaced Alvaro Negredo, was one of two changes to the Man City starting XI, with Costel Pantilimon coming in for Joe Hart in goal.
City produced the first meaningful effort on target in the eighth minute when Aguero let fly with a dipping shot from the edge of the area which was pushed away by Vito Mannone.
But moments later, Sunderland got their noses in front after hitting City on the counter-attack with devastating effect.
Lee Cattermole robbed Yaya Toure on the edge of the Sunderland box and fed Seb Larsson who helped it on to Adam Johnson.
The winger played a long, raking ball over the top to Fabio Borini, who managed to get the wrong side of Vincent Kompany.
Borini had just Costel Pantilimon to beat, but it was an acute angle. The Italian keop his cool though and slotted it beautifully with the outside of his right foot into the far corner.
The on-loan Liverpool man had another opportunity from a 14th minute corner when the ball came out to him just inside the area, but his right-footed volley was deflected over the top.
City had a narrow escape in the 29th minute when Johnson caught them napping from a throw-in.
Johnson got to the right-hand by-line and pulled the ball back which trickled across the six-yard box before flicking off the back of Kompany’s heel and away.
Sunderland were fortunate themselves in the 33rd minute when Samir Nasri’s corner was allowed to roll across the face of goal before Borini headed the ball over his own crossbar from two yards out.
Seven minutes before the interval, City had Kompany to thank for making a magnificent recovery tackle to deny Borini a second.
The Italian was debatably flagged onside to Jack Colback’s hook forwards and had a clear run on goal from just inside the City half.
But Kompany raced back and intercepted just as Borini was about to pull the trigger.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 1 Manchester City 0
David Silva tried his luck from 20 yards in the 50th minute, but his effort was comfortable for Mannone, who gathered low to his left.
Moments later, Costel Pantilimon was called into action when Ki Sung-Yueng unleashed a fierce right-footed drive from 30 yards which the keeper was forced to tip over the top.
But in the 55th minute, City equalised in spectacular fashion when Pablo Zabaleta rolled the ball into the path of Yaya Toure, 25 yards out, who swept it majestically into the far top corner with his right foot.
Within 60 seconds, Manuel Pellegrini’s side went ahead in equally stunning fashion after Sunderland were caught out by Aleksander Kolarov’s pull-back from the left.
Samir Nasri ran onto the ball and smashed it with the outside of his right foot into corner, with Mannone left stationary.
Nasri tried his luck again in the 61st minute with a right-footed shot from the edge of the area which whistled just high and wide.
Substitute Steven Fletcher had a half-chance in the 72nd minute when Colback chested down Craig Gardner’s header into his path.
Fletcher wrapped his left foot around the ball, but couldn’t generate enough power on his half-volley which bounced straight into Pantilimon’s arms.
Kompany went close to sealing victory for City in the 81st minute, but sent his near post volley from Nasri’s wide of the mark.
Sunderland’s last chance came in the 89th minute when Marcos Alonso headed down Mannone’s free-kick, but Fletcher miscontrolled on the right-hand side of the six-yard box.
But moments later, Pellegrini’s men got the killer third when they broke with numbers after Fernandino robbed Alonso on the edge of the CIty area.
City had a four against two and Toure fed substitute Jesus Navas down the right-hand side of the area, who tucked the ball inside the near post.
FULL-TIME: Sunderland 1 Manchester City 3
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso, Cattermole (Giaccherini 77), Colback, Ki, Larsson (Fletcher 60), Johnson (Gardner 60), Borini. Subs not used: Ustari, Celustka, Vergini, Scocco. Booked: Alonso (81)
MANCHESTER CITY: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Kolarov, Nasri, Toure, Fernandinho, Silva (Garcia 77), Aguero (Navas 58), Dzeko (Negredo 88). Subs not used: Hart, Clichy, Lescott, Milner. Booked: Negredo (90)