Gus Poyet must be sick of the sight of Hull City. The Tigers have beaten the Black Cats on three occasions this season, securing a healthy advantage over them in the Premier League survival scrap and, on Sunday, ruining their hopes of a swift return to Wembley.
On each occasion, Poyet’s Sunderland have been the creators of their own downfall. They had players sent off in both league meetings and a shambolic second-half display was to blame for this Cup exit, seven days after losing to Manchester City in the League Cup final at Wembley.
For Hull, however, these are heady days. Another season in the Premier League looks likely and, for their fans, this rare Cup run is an increasingly exciting sideshow.
City are into the semi-finals for only the second time in their 110-year history, the last time being in 1930.
The success is a personal triumph for their manager, Steve Bruce, who despite collecting three winner’s medals as a Manchester United player, had never previously guided a team into the last four in his 16-year management career.
Bruce, a former Sunderland manager, might have feared his wait would go on when Sone Aluko saw his penalty saved by Oscar Ustari in an evenly contested first half.
But then Sunderland fell apart. Hull clinically made the most of it with goals from Curtis Davies, David Meyler and Matty Fryatt in the space of nine minutes.
“Managers, coaches and players come and go. The people who you’re happy for is the supporters,” Bruce said.
“To get there for the first time since 1930 is quite remarkable. I can’t see many of the people who went then making it this time. Let’s enjoy it. For the people who have supported the club year after year, I hope we can make it a fantastic occasion.”
Standing between Bruce and a place in the final are League One Sheffield United, who gave him his first job as a boss in 1998.
“Sheffield gave me my chance in management a long time ago at a difficult time for the club,” Bruce said. “I saw the scenes at Bramall Lane, a big full house and we now have a big Yorkshire derby to look forward to at Wembley.”
Hull were without cup-tied strikers Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic but Bruce selected his strongest possible side. Poyet made six changes to the team he named against Manchester City at Wembley, opting to leave Adam Johnson, Fabio Borini and Ki Sung-Yueng on the bench.
Bruce got his reward, while Poyet’s side failed to muster a notable chance on goal.
Hull spurned one from the penalty spot 10 minutes before the break. Aluko turned smartly in the box to draw a foul from Sebastian Larsson but his penalty was tame and Ustari saved low to his right.
Hull looked to be missing Jelavic and Long but the goals finally started to flow when centre-back Davies scored his third in as many games, rising above John O’Shea to head in Tom Huddlestone’s clipped free-kick.
The Tigers had their tails up and ruthlessly took advantage of two moments of calamity from Lee Cattermole.
The Sunderland midfielder, who was sent off on this ground in November, was beaten to George Boyd’s hopeful hoof forward by Meyler. The former Sunderland midfielder carried the ball into the area, switched on to his left foot and calmly finished beyond Ustari.
His celebration, head-butting the corner flag, was a nod to last weekend, when he was on the end of Newcastle manager Alan Pardew’s moment of madness.
Worse was to come for Cattermole. He played a nonchalant back-pass towards Ustari but clearly did not spot Fryatt lurking. The Hull striker intercepted and fired in the third.
Defeat leaves Sunderland focused on their undoubted priority – escaping relegation. They are second-bottom of the table but only a point behind West Bromwich Albion in 17th, with two games in hand.
“We’re out,” Poyet said. “No more questions about which is more important: the cup or the league. From now on, it’s about points. Somehow.
“It doesn’t matter about the shape or the team. Anyone who plays from now on is a first-team player and they need to defend the club to the best of their ability and, if we are good enough, we will stay up.”