SUNDERLAND face daunting challenges all over the park in tomorrow’s Capital One Cup final to overcome the quality in Manchester City’s ranks.
But what the are the key battles Sunderland must win if they are to end a 41-year wait for silverware?
Sports Writer Chris Young examines the three pivotal areas for Gus Poyet’s side at Wembley.
KEEPING KOMPANY OCCUPIED
SUNDERLAND will inevitably spend large portions of tomorrow’s game on the back foot; desperately trying to halt the waves of pressure from Manchester City.
But Gus Poyet’s men cannot afford to stock-pile 11 men behind the ball and desperately hope that is sufficient to thwart the Premier League’s second top scorers.
It would be futile.
Man City full-backs Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy would be given licence to operate as supplementary wingers and eventually the battering ram would break through the fort’s defences.
Sunderland have to offer a threat on the counter-attack and they need to make life uncomfortable for the imperious Vincent Kompany.
The City captain’s partner at centre-half Martin Demichelis is the weak link in the back four, yet Kompany is a colossal figure, who provides the glue for the defence. He was a clear miss when Sunderland emerged victorious in November’s meeting between the two sides.
Poyet’s big decision is over who leads the line.
But if it is either Jozy Altidore or Steven Fletcher, they cannot afford to go toe-to-toe with Kompany and look to win the physical battle against the Belgian. Such an approach would have the former Hamburg man salivating.
They have to operate smarter than that; working the channels, dragging Kompany out of position and looking to create space for others, particularly on the counter-attack - as Chelsea did so well at the Etihad last month.
That is perhaps where the option of Fabio Borini in a central role will appeal to Poyet.
The on-loan Liverpool man has the pace and movement to stretch City’s defence - he did that twice within the opening five minutes of the second half against Arsenal last weekend after being moved into a central role.
Pondering those attacking options has weighed heavily on Poyet’s mind this week. It’s a decision the Sunderland boss needs to get right.
An easy afternoon for Kompany could spell a very difficult one for Sunderland.
STOPPING THE MIDFIELD GIANT
ONE of the prime factors in Sunderland’s run of four successive Stadium of Light victories over Manchester City has been their ability to keep Yaya Toure under wraps.
That’s no easy feat. The Ivorian behemoth is the most dominant central midfielder in the Premier League - testified by his tally of 16 goals in all competitions already this season.
But both Lee Cattermole and Jack Colback have proved outstanding adversaries for Toure.
They have pressed, hastled, harried and pestered Toure to such a degree that his impact has been minimised against the Black Cats.
Sunderland must maintain that tomorrow; hunting in packs to halt the former Barcelona man by any means possible.
That will not be easy on a pitch the size of Wembley, which should create spaces for Toure to attack. The return of Fernadinho gives Toure licence to do that too.
The absence of the water-carrying Fernandinho coincided with Man City dropping four points in the Premier League after Toure was forced into a deeper midfield role.
He is far more influential when pushed forward into the hole behind the strikers and allowed to pounce on those loose balls on the edge of the area.
Cattermole will need a helping hand from his two fellow central midfielders, but the Teessider is perhaps THE key man for Sunderland tomorrow.
At his best, the 25-year-old can be inspirational and he needs to be in pouncing on those 50-50s and preventing Toure seeing the ball regularly.
Just over two years ago - a month after Martin O’Neill’s appointment - Cattermole did that with a Herculean effort on New Year’s Day before Ji Dong-won’s dramatic late winner.
O’Neill walked across the pitch straight to Cattermole when the final whistle sounded.
Poyet needs to be doing something similar tomorrow, if Sunderland are to triumph.
ON THE TOES AGAINST THE FLEET OF FOOT
GUS POYET and his staff embarked upon an attempted prank a fortnight ago.
Prior to the FA Cup fifth round clash against Southampton, the Sunderland backroom team tried to convince Wes Brown that the game had been postponed and the 34-year-old would miss the Capital One Cup final as a result.
It didn’t work. Brown had already arrived at the Stadium of Light by the time the text campaign began.
But having the former England international back in the fold at Wembley tomorrow is no laughing matter. It’s crucial.
Although Santiago Vergini endured a miserable afternoon at Arsenal last weekend, he showed enough signs against the Saints that he can be a long-term success at the Stadium of Light.
But Brown has the experience, know-how and crucially understanding with John O’Shea that will be so dearly needed against Manchester City.
As a double act, the two have been a key reason behind Sunderland’s rejuvenation under Gus Poyet and they will have to be at their best in countering Manuel Pellegrini’s frightening attacking options.
Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko can both be fearsome predators, even if the goals have dried up for the pair recently, but the two centre-forwards won’t necessarily worry O’Shea and Brown.
Far more concerning are the low centres of gravity boasted by Samir Nasri, David Silva and Sergio Aguero.
That short-sharp passing in and around the penalty area is devlishly difficult to deal with - as Tomas Rosicky proved for Arsenal last weekend.
But it is those runs by Aguero down the sides of central defenders which are particularly devastating.
The Argentine frontman isn’t match fit after a month on the sidelines with a hamstring problem, but if Pellegrini opts to throw him straight back into the starting XI, he is still a huge threat.
O’Shea and Brown need to show all the guile and game management gleaned from a decade at Old Trafford to keep Aguero quiet.
If Sunderland can do that, they have half a chance.