If Sunderland were not on such a great run of 3 wins in the Premiership, we would be seen as injury-hit and suffering badly from those misfortunes. We have captain Lee Cattermole, Nicklas Bendtner, Wes Brown, David Vaughan, Matt Kilgallon as well as Titus Bramble all injured, and nobody bothers to mention our number 1 keeper Craig Gordon any more, he has been out so long. The Scot is an outstanding goalkeeper. The Mackems’ loan signings Wayne Bridge and Sotirios Kyrgiakos are both ineligible.
My blog title takes us back 20 years when some travelling Sunderland fans used to wear gasmasks for the perceived smog on Teesside. The place is now very different, but somehow these images persist in the mind.
Despite injuries, for Sunderland the best team may be out there and such is the quality of our squad that we must be favourites for tonight. We can welcome back a fresh and razor-sharp Fraizer Campbell. Clearly, Boro’ are not on a good run, and we are playing well away from home, where Sessègnon, Campbell and McLean’s speed on the break can be used to full effect...but make no mistake, the Teessiders will be up for this.
For this 4th round replay, Middlesbrough pair Marvin Emnes and Faris Haroun are doubtful with hamstring issues. Barry Robson is also a doubt with a bruised hand and Scott McDonald is definitely out, but our southern neighbours welcome ex-Sunerland favourite and cultured left-sided player Julio Arca is back from suspension.
Sunderland have not reached the 5th round of the cup since 2004, so manager O’Neill insists the tie remains on a knife-edge. “I would be really surprised if a Sunderland supporter took anything for granted, particularly after the kind of run we have had in recent years. That’s certainly not my attitude. We have a very difficult game that could go either way. It hangs in the balance. In fact, Boro’ are at home, so the advantage would probably go to them at the moment. They also have a few players coming back from injury and suspension – Julio Arca is available again and he is a good footballer. But we are playing with good heart and at least we are approaching the game in a good frame of mind.”
I wish one could put the psychology of winning into a bottle, and keep it for the future, but we definitely have it at the moment.
The affable Northern Irishman continued: “It was a physical game at the Stadium of Light and I can’t say I was particularly expecting that. But in terms of the game itself and the atmosphere, none of those things surprised me. I think the full house will help the atmosphere once again and it’s important we go there and try to enjoy it as best we can. In an ideal world, we would have loved to have won the game at the first time of asking. Of course, I would rather not have extra-time and penalties if possible, but if you could guarantee me winning the match if it goes all the way, I would take that.”
“You win a few games and that gives you confidence, that confidence breeds self-belief and so it goes on. The most important thing, though, is that you carry on winning.”
Robert Huth is an ex-Boro player, and this dubious link takes us again to that incident at the Britannia Stadium last weekend. Despite Stoke manager Tony Pulis’ venemous protestations, the FA upheld his red card from Saturday’s 1-0 win for the Lads. Wouldn't it be great to hear a manager, for example Alex Ferguson, defending an opposition player for once?
I want to leave the last word on that incident to a commenter, Dr. Zen, from my “match reaction” blog:
“Pulis' comments are pretty dire. Meyler had to jump to avoid getting his leg broken. I don't really agree with your assessment that it was unfortunate for Huth to get a straight red: there was no way he could control the tackle and that's been a red often this season. Pulis' argument seems to be that Huth should not have been sent off because he didn't actually break Meyler's leg. The bottom line is, he was sent off because he didn't care whether he did.”
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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