Gus Poyet spoke of his pride in his Sunderland players as he urged them to gather up the positives from their Capital One Cup final heartbreak and use it to fuel their battle to survive and prosper in the FA Cup.
The Black Cats were undone by two moments of thoroughbred class from Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri, whose goals cancelled out the advantage Sunderland held after Fabio Borini’s sensational tenth-minute opener. Jesus Navas hit a third in the final minute as Poyet’s men pushed in vain for a leveller.
Ultimately they could have little cause for complaint at the outcome, which might have been different if Steven Fletcher had not illustrated his lack of sharpness when stumbling over a presentable opportunity in the 88th minute.
In a season that has been pockmarked by hiccups, self-inflicted mistakes and kamikaze moments, Poyet was grateful that his team gave a true reflection of their ability.
“I wanted to see my team on the pitch, and I saw my team today. I’m very proud,” the Sunderland manager said.
“I didn’t want any mistakes or presents to the opposition, any bad decisions, sending offs or own goals, and we didn’t. We had the best shot that we had, and tried our best.
“For 45 minutes, we were more than decent. But then if you tell that Yaya Toure is going to score from 30 yards into the top corner, maybe I will tell you that in the next game we will have to play with two goalkeepers.
“Analysing the football side, I don’t think we could have done better. We tried our best. We had a chance to score a second goal, and another day, we would have got a free-kick for the foul on Seb Larsson before they scored their first. But at the end of the day, quality decided the game with two absolute wonder finishes.”
Poyet’s team have the chance to return to Wembley if they defeat Hull next weekend. That, along with their bid to stay up, will not take priority for a manager who hopes they will be lifted by a performance that belied their lowly Premier League position.
“We will only be able to answer that at the end of the season, but it is up to me now,” he said.
“It is my responsibility to use this the right way. As you know, I don’t like any excuses and I’m not going to allow any of the players to have an excuse for what happens in the future because we lost today. No chance. How difficult it will be, we will see.
“Maybe being in the cup next week will help because it will give us a little bit more time ahead of the next (league) game with Crystal Palace. We will make that even bigger now because that is a game that we have to win for sure.
“It is easy to say that we have to move on, but I need to see who takes those words and shows me they are okay. Do I know how Jozy is going to react this week after I made the decision to leave him out of the squad?
“No, I don’t know. But my job now is to find out. I need to make sure that the players that play next week are in the right mental condition.
“Physically, I don’t think we will have any problems. It is never nice when you are on the losing side in a game like this, I hate it. But we need to move on.”