We don’t want Sunderland man!
I’m sure everyone will be well aware of this, but this week we are taking a very brief respite from the unleashed beast of the Championship season, to play a league cup tie. This makes me happy, although that wasn’t always the case.
The cups have always been a missed opportunity at NUFC. As a good to middling Premier League side down the years, we should have made a better fist of them than the series of disappointments and no-shows that were miserably served up.
However, when there are less trifling matters than life in mid-table to contend with, I always thought a different approach was needed. Basically, if you can’t win it, it’s in the way. Persevering with an EFL cup run would offer too much of a distraction from the only show in town: getting promoted back to the Premier League.
Leave early and don’t waste the energy or the focus.
That’s where, not for the first time, Rafa has changed my outlook. The two league cup ties so far have been great opportunities to build confidence, blood the recently unused members of a well-functioning squad and grow or regain momentum. The bounce back against Wolves meant that our league defeat days earlier could be erased from consciousness.
This week, in an echo of the previous round, we face Preston twice in five days, with the cup first this time, and I have every confidence that if we are eliminated we will go to Deepdale and get something.
Rafa will have watched the opposition and assessed where strengths and weaknesses lie, thought about who amongst the unselected would thrive and will formulate a plan to reverse the losing formula in a way that none of our recent managers were remotely capable of.
I really hope we don’t lose though. The magnificent £10/£3 pricing structure bang in the middle of half-term has helped ensure a near full house, and with the quarter finals beckoning, progression could only add to the air of growing euphoria around the place. Another home tie would again give the chance to fill the ground, use the squad and possibly build more momentum.
We’ll not win it though. The cup, I mean. Amongst all the happy optimism it could well be forgotten that we are, deservedly, a Championship club. There are teams left in the cup who would smash opponents from across Europe and, with due respect to the very in-form Preston, an equally as favourable draw would be required for the next round if we were to progress.
Avoid the winners of Liverpool/Spurs and the Manchester derby, avoid Arsenal if they get past Reading, Chelsea if they squeeze out West Ham.
A nice cosy tie with Leeds/Norwich or Bristol City/Hull would continue the theme of pleasant surprises at draw time, but then we have the final tie of the round. This tie is the reason I am risking catastrophically jinxing Tuesday night by daring to look ahead when we are facing an in-form team from our own division.
Listen, right. We don’t want Sunderland in the cup. If you think we do, you are dafter than a March Badger which is up to you, but please stop broadcasting it as some kind of populist opinion, because fate might hear you.
Notwithstanding the fact the mackems have a difficult trip to Southampton let’s again get hypothetical.
In each of the past rounds, during the gap between progression and the next draw, social media has been awash with cretinous jellyheids craving a tie with the last team you want to play this year. It will happen again should we edge out Preston, and even more ridiculously it will happen in a few weeks when the draw for the FA cup is made. Have these people not been paying attention lately?
You may have seen Sunderland on TV this year. Once again they are incompetent, badly run and in early distress, anchored to the bottom of the Premier League. Our consistent form would see us favoured surely, if they ended up at St James Park.
Well, on form and standing we should have beaten them in each of the last four miserable derbies at St James Park. We haven’t, partly because we weren’t ever that good, but mainly because Sunderland has ceased to exist as a progressive football club at all, and just sort of lurches along like a leprous beggar until they play Newcastle, at which point the entire focus of the players, fans club and city raises insurmountably. The team performs at 300% their previous level of capability and gets a result that logistically should not have happened.
Now, imagine what a result like that would do to our season. The focus it would draw and the crushing blow to confidence it would deliver.
Even if we were to turn around and win, I think the whole event would detract from the excellent mantra of consistently looking on to the next game, professionally racking up the points and progress towards the ultimate goal. And that’s before you even get into the inevitable injuries and/or suspensions this godforsaken match always inflicts on us.
Then, think of the Sunderland perspective.
Their usual escape route from the bottom three is to install a new manager, to gain enough bounce to finish 17th and the Derby with us is the point they choose to execute this underhanded and costly plot, gaining maximum absolute evil from the transaction ahead of the game itself.
With Fat Sam having upset the apple cart on this by forcing a change in the summer, they are completely stuck on this one, unsure when it will be fair to bin Moyes and who the hell to replace him with.
If the cup draw brings about the tie favoured by the daft lads, the decision is made. Get the new fella in, beat the Mags and draw enough momentum that some poor undeserving club slides from mid-table, like Quint in Jaws, slipping towards the open shark’s mouth of relegation, while the mackems crawl into their usual spot to look forward to another autumn of abject humiliation.
No. No, no, just no. They can get along without our help, and we will do what must be the absolute fundamental of the next few years: just do our own thing. The fate and fortunes of other clubs is irrelevant in the execution of Rafa’s project.
Hopefully we can progress past a good Preston side, and if we do I would like the lowest standing side remaining, please. If the other ties strategically conspire that the trophy starts to look winnable, that would be incredible but I very doubt it. Just as long as it continues to allow us to do our thing.
Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf
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