This is an exciting game and could be a 46,000 sell-out. Middlesbrough captain and defender Matthew Bates is a close friend of Sunderland skipper Lee Cattermole, and feels he can handle the pressure of facing his home-town club when he leads Sunderland out in this 4th round clash. Bates, 25, and Catts grew up together in Stockton and were young players together at the Riverside.
Bates told the BBC: "You've just got to get on with it. He won't let the occasion get to him, he'll get on with it, and I'm sure he'll acquit himself very well."
Boro's relegation to the Championship in 2009, along with Newcastle, ended the prospect of regular derbies. "For Middlesbrough this is their biggest game," Cattermole told BBC Newcastle. "If you look at the derby between Newcastle and Sunderland, in Boro fans eyes that is how they see Middlesbrough-Sunderland. It's a special moment for me, and it'll be funny being lined up alongside Matthew."
Bates added: "I texted Lee straight away. I knew the ball numbers before the draw, so I knew as soon as it came out who we'd be playing. For us both to be walking out, me captaining Middlesbrough and him captaining Sunderland - two great club - will be a proud day for both of
us, and for our families as well.
"It's a great occasion for players, coaches, families, fans - a great game to play in. Local derbies for Middlesbrough fans don't come round that often, with being in the Championship. We've sold 3,000 tickets so I'm sure it'll be a great atmosphere."
"It'll be a proud day for both of us, going in the referee's room before the game and shaking hands, handing the team sheets over and then leading the teams out," Bates continued. It's something growing up we thought would never happen."
Although home form where the Black Cats have gained 10 points from a possible 12 under O'Neill makes Sunderland the favourites, anything can happen in this sort of game. But there is a momentum to the Lads season under O'Neill, and an FA Cup run would be great. With Newc**tle going out versus Brighton, my fellow blogger Marc from across the Tyne being largely quiet these days, and the two Manchester teams out, it could be a good time to grasp the nettle and move forward against Boro'. But maybe that is what Hull thought before their game against Crawley yesterday...
©Lars J.S. Knutsen