NEVER-SAY-DIE Sunderland booked their place at Wembley after a tension packed night at St James's Park that saw the best and worst sides of soccer, writes Martin Howey.
The mass pitch invasion by Newcastle fans will long be remembered. And, not for the first time, football will be kicked into the background.
But make no mistake about it. Away from the police cordons and the distressing sight of witnessing snarling alsation dogs edge their way across the floodlit turf, Denis Smith's braves thoroughly deserved to march into the Second Division play-off final with Swindon.
Goals from Eric Gates-his first of the year-and ace marksman Marco Gabbiadini killed off nervous Newcastle and condemned them to a second successive season outside Division One.
United, having finished third in the promotion dog fight, had little to answer to their neighbours, who wound up their campaign three places behind them.
Sunderland were more composed, sharper on the break and much better organised all round, yet it was Newcastle who actually struck a post in their first genuine attack. But in theirs, Sunderland stunned the bulk of the sell-out crowd by scoring.
Mark McGee's blast against Tony Norman's far post had given United an early boost. Yet it was Sunderland who took command after that, with Gates steering them ahead in 13 minutes.
A John Kay throw down the right hand side found Gabbiadini in space. He in turned knocked it on into the path of Gary Owers and from his cross Gates guided the ball past the despairing John Burridge from six yards.
Roker continued to dominate and Owers drilled a low drive a couple of feet wide from 25 yards.
But the industrious midfield man might of made it two on 27 minutes.
Burridge reacted superbly to block his close range snap shot, leaving the lurking Gates to stumble as he looked to pounce on the rebound.
United were not far away from snatching an equaliser when McGee's ferocious drive was charged down by Tony Norman in a crowded six yard box, but the contest erupted six minutes before the break when Kay hacked down first Billy Askew and then Roy Aitken in a manic two minute spell.
The Roker defender was booked for the first challenge and extremely fortunate not to be dismissed for the second.
Newcastle, having brought on Kevin Dillon for the injured Darren Bradshaw, began the second period nervously as they had entered the first.
And on 53 minutes they had Burridge to thank for another reflex save when he reacted well to collect Gabbiadini's shot via a Kevin Scott deflection.
The home side were under yet more intense pressure when a John Anderson error let in Gabbiadini on the 18 yard line.
The Wearsiders surged forward incessantly, and had it not been for superlative last ditch tackle by Mark Stimson then Owers would have killed the game off with a four-yard tap-in.
Sunderland, however, finally snatched the killer goal their enterprising play deserved.
It arrived five minutes from time, and it was engineered superbly. Teenager Warren Hawke played in Gabbiadini on the edge of the area. And after working a delightful one-two with Gates he took the return in his stride to beat Burridge with a delicately placed shot into the far corner for his 26th goal of the season.
Bookings:Kay (foul), McGee (dissent), Quinn (U.G.C)
referee:George Courtney (Spennymoor)
Newcastle(4-4-2):BURRIDGEBradshaw (Dillon 45),Scott,Anderson,Stimson,Brock,Aitken,Kristensen,Askew(O'Brien 77),Quinn,McGee
Sunderland(4-4-2):Norman,Kay,Agboola,Bennett,Macphail,Owers,Bracewell,Armstrong,Hawke,Gabbiadini,GATES subs not used: Brady,Hauser
They got stopped at the halfway line by all the boys in blue!
ITS NO GOOD LADS, THE SCOREBOARD SAYS 2-0 AND YOU AIN'T GOING TO CHANGE IT!
Meanwhile the lads celebrate back in the chnaging rooms, get in.