Cup pride for Black Cats despite Wembley defeat.
Sunderland suffered Wembley heartache in the Capital One Cup final but can hold their heads high after giving absolutely everything against high-flying Manchester City.
Sunderland produced a performance brimming with application and desire and led at half-time through an outstanding early finish from Fabio Borini.
But two goals in as many minutes from Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri early in the second half put City in front and, despite spirited resistance, Manuel Pellegrini's side secured victory.
Jesus Navas' late third goal arguably flattered City, who were bested by a first-half Sunderland performance Poyet later described as “perfect”.
Pellegrini's outfit could well have fallen two goals behind at the break but for a fantastic saving tackle from Vincent Kompany to deny Borini.
But they were livelier after the break and conjured up two moments of quality to steal the initiative before Navas struck late on.
Nevertheless, Poyet and the travelling support numbering in excess of 31,000 can take plenty of positives from the game.
Sunderland's head coach opted to bring Seb Larsson, Wes Brown and Lee Cattermole back into his side ahead of the game, with Borini up front, and it was the Italian who gave his side a dream start with a goal after just 11 minutes.
Adam Johnson, playing against his former club, found Borini with a super floated ball down the right and the Italian did the rest, powering beyond Kompany before planting a glorious shot into the far corner of the net with the outside of his right boot.
It was a sublime piece of counter-attacking, with Cattermole starting the move by robbing Fernandinho deep inside the Sunderland half before Borini clinically dispatched his fifth goal of the campaign.
Brown then got above the City defence to nod a 15th-minute corner over the bar with Pellegrini's side struggling to contend with the blow of going behind.
They did test Vito Mannone as the half-hour approached as Sergio Aguero found Nasri after a strong run down the right, but the City man saw his shot comfortably saved down low.
Bardsley then did brilliantly to clear after Nasri had headed David Silva's clipped ball dangerously across the area, but Sunderland were looking incisive on the counter and nearly doubled their lead seven minutes before half time.
Larsson's touch unleashed Borini who sped clear, but City captain Kompany saved his side with a brilliantly-timed sliding challenge just as the Italian was about to pull the trigger.
Sunderland ahead at the break, then, and Ki came close in the opening stages of the second half when his 35-yard piledriver was pushed over the bar by Costel Pantilimon.
But Pellegrini's side came on strong and were level after 10 second-half minutes. Pablo Zabaleta found Toure on the edge of the box and the Ivorian clipped a shot over the head of Mannone and in.
And City were ahead just a minute later – a cross from the left running into the path of Nasri, who hit the ball on the run and steered his shot inside the far post.
Unbowed, Sunderland responded with a double substitution on the hour as Larsson and Johnson made way for Craig Gardner and Steven Fletcher.
Poyet's side responded well, putting City on the back foot as they continued to expend every possible ounce of energy and commitment.
Fletcher fired a left-footed shot at Pantilimon with 18 minutes to go, while Bardsley fired wide before Zabaleta flashed a drive off-target at the other end.
Sunderland's best chance of the closing stages came just a minute from time when a free-kick found an unmarked Fletcher at the back post, but the striker just couldn't quite retain control as he tried to keep the ball in play.
And City responded with a third goal in the final minute on the break. Toure strode forwards and found sub Navas, whose powerful drive found the back of the net despite Mannone getting a touch.
It was a cruel way to round off the Wearsiders' Wembley afternoon, but every single Sunderland fan can take pride in their side's performance.
The Black Cats dared to dream, and while the cup campaign came up just short, there remains plenty of dazzling moments to reflect on.
- Luiz Rosa
- Silva (García Fernández)
- Dzeko (Negredo)
- Agüero (Navas)
- Alonso Yellow
- Larsson (Fletcher)
- Johnson (Gardner)
- Cattermole (Giaccherini)
- Yellow Negredo
- García Fernández