Gus Poyet hailed his red and white history makers on a night that Vito Mannone wrote his name in the Sunderland folklore.
The Black Cats booked their first Wembley appearance since 1992 after triumphing on penalties in an incredible second Capital One Cup semi-final – having seemed to throw it all away when Javier Hernandez scored just seconds after Phil Bardsley’s last-minute goal.
Poyet admitted it was an amazing night and paid tribute to the contribution of his Italian goalkeeper, who was inspired in front of Sunderland’s 1973 hero Jimmy Montgomery in the stands.
“It’s difficult to explain. I cannot remember playing a game like this, ever – as a player or a manager,” he said.
“You don’t expect to concede straight after you have scored and then you don’t expect. How did we do it? I think we need to ask Vito Mannone that, because he is the only person who can explain.
“It may sound contradictory but I was proud of them, even when we were 1-0. It was a team playing with belief, passing the ball, taking risks. It was a great night for a group of players and a group of supporters that have had a difficult season.”
Sunderland thought they had been sent spiralling out of the competition after Hernandez’s sickening late strike cancelled out Bardsley’s effort – which was an incredible mistake by goalkeeper David De Gea.
Poyet had to pick his players up after the sickening sequence of events.
But there was an incredible response – and Mannone saved from Rafael Da Silva to send 9,000 Sunderland supporters into rapture.
“It was difficult to pick them up for the penalties, but it was a great night for a group of players who ran into the ground,” Poyet said.
“For the final we need to be brave and have a good day. They have very good players but if you want to win something you need to be the best. In order to win things you need to play the best and beat them. What a task that will be at Wembley! I believe in luck, but you have to earn it.
“As a player Vito had not been playing for a while, but he has been fantastic for us since arriving. The whole squad and staff started singing his name when he walked into the dressing room. He was half happy and half embarrassed because it was a special night for him.”
Poyet’s men celebrated with the Sunderland fans at the end in memorable scenes.
“I love it, I really love it. When the players went over to the supporters they felt what it is like to be winners and that is an incredible feeling,” he said.
Sunderland will meet Manchester City, the form team of English football, in the Capital One Cup final.
“We will try to win it. We need to have a good day and they need to have a bad day but we will give it every effort,” he said.