THE FA Cup hangover was the story of Sunderland’s 2012, but manager Martin O’Neill is not expecting a sequel in 2013. In fact, his team cannot afford one.
Last season’s FA Cup exit set the Black Cats back massively. Knocked out by Everton in a quarter-final replay, they went another six months before beating Premier League opposition.
So Sunderland fans could be forgiven for nervousness about what might happen after Tuesday’s third-round replay defeat to Bolton.
Arguing circumstances are very different this time, their manager does not expect a problem at Wigan Athletic this afternoon. “The first match we played after (Everton) was probably the best we played, against Manchester City,” said O’Neill, who has blocked Fraizer Campbell’s proposed move to Cardiff City for the time being.
“But as the season wore on and we had enough points on the board to have stayed up, I think that definitely had an influence.
“You can’t just put it down to one game. It was a big disappointment, to step away from Wembley and a semi-final
“We could have got blown away in the semi-final, who knows, but just to have got there. We have too many games and still too much at this minute (to play for).
“We’ve got 16 games left, almost half a season still to go, and if we’re going to feel sorry for ourselves for the next four-and-a-half months we are in serious trouble.”
At the end of March last year Sunder-land had pulled clear of relegation trouble and even had an outside chance of qualifying for Europe.
This season they are still in peril – six points above the bottom three.
“I would like to be able to come in, rather like a few other managers and just dismiss it, but that’s not the case,” said O’Neill. “It is disappointing because we’d gone out in the third round, we had fought back in a game which was eventually fruitless at Bolton with a big crowd, and at 2-2 twice we nearly won the game.
“The first half (of the replay) was a wee bit better than I thought. We had a number of chances and the goalkeeper’s made two really great saves, but maybe in all the disappointment I kind of forgot that.
“In the second half we didn’t do enough and although it (Bolton’s opening goal) was not a penalty, we didn’t do enough.”
O’Neill was unhappy at the penalty which allowed Marvin Sordell to open the scoring from the penalty spot on Tuesday.
“I had a little word with Mike Riley (the head of English referees),” he revealed. “He had a look at it and agreed with me, which is disappointing because it was a major point of the game.
“In my disappointment I’ve forgotten we were excellent against West Ham. We’ve won four of the last seven, picked up some great, great points and four victories.
“Sometimes I can forget that myself.”
Lee Cattermole is a doubt to face his old club, but Steven Fletcher and John O’Shea should return from injury. Ahmed Elmohamady was in the squad which flew to Manchester yesterday after being recalled from his loan at Hull City.
Alfred N’Diaye could make his full debut, though Kader Magane is unlikely to because he is lacking match-fitness. The pair played alongside Cattermole in a small-sided practice match on Wednesday.
“The game itself was a really good idea and Lee was really enjoying it,” said O’Neill. “It was only in the last stages the pain came shooting through (Cattermole’s knee).
“I am hoping it is not too serious and if he declares himself fit he is immediately in contention because he is a player we need at this minute, although we have been without him for some considerable time.”
Two March games have been moved for live television coverage. The Black Cats now entertain Norwich City at 1.30pm on Sunday, March 17.
The home game against Manchester United will kick-off at 12.45pm, still on March 30.