When it comes to the FA Cup, Sunderland are in it for the long haul . . . even if they might not know what to do if it goes all the way tonight, writes Stuart Rayner
IF Sunderland’s involvement in the FA Cup is decided by a penalty shoot-out tonight, they could be forgiven for not knowing what to do.
If that is what is needed, Martin O’Neill will take it. He is not a manager who tries to pick and choose what trophies he tries for.
Yesterday the club’s official website proudly told fans of the role one of its own, Charles Alcock, played in creating the FA Cup. It is only fitting, then, they should be one of a depressingly dwindling number of clubs to treat the competition with respect.
Giving the Cup its dues and taking advantage of other clubs’ half-hearted attitudes are all well and good but there are practical and more immediate reasons to go all out against Bolton Wanderers at the Stadium of Light tonight.
Building on their second-half performance in the first game in Lancashire, Sunderland followed it with a 90-minute attacking display against West Ham United widely regarded as their best this season.
It has come together remarkably quickly considering how long they spent looking for it in 2012, but there seems to be genuine confidence and momentum behind the Black Cats. It would be a shame to lose it by not taking tonight seriously.
“We will field as strong a side as possible because we want to stay in the competition,” O’Neill promises, as he tends to whenever a cup tie comes around.
“There is good confidence but we cannot take anything for granted. If it comes to penalties and you say you will play Everton but had to go through extra-time and penalties I will take it.
“You’re past Christmas and into January now, so why shouldn’t you give it everything you’ve got? I heard Phil Neville say that Everton want to try to win the Cup, which befits a side like that. Outside replays, they’re down to one game a week now.
“There’s that psychological feeling now that if you’ve only got one league game a week to play, why shouldn’t you try to stay in the Cup?”
The smiles were a long way from Sunderland 10 days earlier when they were heading out of it after a dire first-half against opponents struggling in the Championship. To those who write off the cups as a waste of their time (and more importantly energy), it was a timely reminder of the value of cup wins.
“We were a long way from being in that hat at about ten past four at Bolton,” O’Neill recalls.
“I do believe our second-half performance, urged on by the crowd of course, was part of the reason why we started so well against West Ham. It’s up to us to continue that. We played well in the match, but that’s not cured everything. I wish it had.”