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[Archived] Wohoo Its Sunderland Again (preview)


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The preview which is no way just a way of showing off that I know someone well known in the footballing industry.

Right as we all know, the FA Cup is the greatest cup competition in the World Ever!!! And due to us being the luckiest club in the world, we’ve managed to get an extra game against Sunderland, because the first three this season, just haven’t been enough for us football connoisseurs and we needed, nay demanded, more, and the players, bless them, provided it.

Right as you might have guessed the fact that we’re playing Sunderland (again) in a replay was the last thing both sets of fans and teams need. However, here we are, and to be honest, although it provides a risk of injury to vital players, I always feel that a good cup run is a good thing for a team, especially a struggling one, because the extra games are outweighed by the lift given by winning games. For the defence, I give you the Worthington Cup run of 2001, the win lifted the whole side, gave it belief and we went onto finish 10th from a very dodgy position. The flip side is that after getting stuffed by Coventry last year our whole season just petered out into mediocrity (how we miss it).

So kudos to all the fans who go next Wednesday, I hope Sam takes it seriously and plays a decent side aiming to win the tie.

So, as we're playing Sunderland (yet again) I thought I'd ask Jonathan Wilson, author of Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football and Inverting the Pyramid: A story of Football Tactics (criminally overlooked for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award), football correspondent of the Financial Times (yes that surprised me too), who covers football for the Sunday Telegraph, writes about Eastern European football for the Guardian, has a decent knowledge of South American football, and used to be seen appearing on the very grey and very wide SportsXchange on Sky, who is also a Sunderland fan about the upcoming greatest game in the world ever TM.

Hi Jonathan, are you feeling the magic of the FA Cup? And if not why do you think it's losing its lustre or has it never actually been that special, its just the hype has increased?

No, I'm not. I think it's mainly down to money. The prospect of relegation from the Premier League (and to an extent the Championship; there's a gulf between it and League One) is so terrifying that clubs have to prioritise the league; it's all well and good to talk about glory, but do fans really want their team to tilt at the Cup and risk extinction? That said, I do wonder whether managers are over-negative; after all, a win in the Cup can lift a side – and a defeat, obviously, can have the opposite effect – and I think there's a danger of breaking the rhythm of a side if you make too many changes. As an example of that, look at Euro 2008: of the four sides who had secured qualification after two games and rested players for their third group match, three went out, and Spain produced their worst performance of the competition, drawing 0-0 against Italy before winning on penalties.

Also the prospect of an upset is lessened because the gap is bigger from top to bottom so, despite Portsmouth's win last season, the truth is that probably only half a dozen teams believe they can win it. The days when second division sides got on a roll – as Sunderland, Southampton and West Ham did – and went on to win the thing are over.

You wonder as well whether the FA Cup felt more special than it was because it made up so much of what we saw on TV – not just live games, but highlights midweek on Sportsnight.

Both teams have changed their managers since we last spoke, how do you think both are doing?

Sam seems to have made an immediate impact. I haven't seen Blackburn live recently, but the defence looks significantly tighter than it was earlier in the season. I worry about Ricky Sbragia, purely because number twos so rarely make good number ones, but he started with two great wins and, although there's been a stutter, we're still playing tidy football.

What team do you think you'll play, and other than Jones (if he's not at Spurs) and Cisse, who else should we look out for? And is there any particular Rovers player you'd love to see rested?

A weakened team, for sure. So probably Carlos Edwards instead of Steed Malbranque, and at least one of David Healy and Michael Chopra up front. I suppose there is a possibility we may go 4-5-1, and give Cisse and Jones – and it's a huge relief he's still with us – a half each. Malbranque and Andy Reid have been our most productive midfielders this season, but I doubt either will play. Christopher Samba has been great against us at least twice this season, so I wouldn't mind him getting a knock.

Thats unfortuantely about as much excitement or interest I can produce for the replay, what with your manager appearing to be glad that he can get some of his players yellow carded so as to miss unimportant games, therefore can I, like the Premiership mangers, concentrate on the league?

For both teams survival has to be the priority, so yes. But on the other hand, whoever goes through has a great chance of reaching the quarter-finals with a fifth-round tie at home to Coventry. Once you're in the last eight, anything could happen and let's face it, this is still the biggest competition either side are likely to win any time soon.

If I gave you 1,000,000 Zimbabian Dollars (about 10p when written, £500 by the time you read this if Labours economic plans go badly) for an accumulator bet on the top 4 (in order) and the bottom 3 (in order), who would you pick?

1Manchester United, 2Chelsea, 3Liverpool, 4Arsenal: people talk about this as a very competitive title race, but I suspect it'll be over by mid-April. United had a much harder start to the season than anybody else, and were distracted by the Super Cup and the Club World Cup, and I expect them to get stronger and stronger. Chelsea lack width and Anelka is heavily reliant on the opposition leaving space behind them, meaning they struggle to break sides down, but Liverpool, yet again, seem to be relying on four or five players to win every game for them.

Villa v Arsenal for fourth will be fascinating, but Arsenal have stabilised and have players to come back from injury, while the size of Villa's squad could count against them.

18Middlesbrough 19Portsmouth 20Bolton – OK, I'm playing to the gallery a bit here, but I hear rumours from Bolton that are very good news for their rivals – it doesn't seem a happy place. All the momentum is against Pompey, and I'm not sure Tony Adams has the ebullience to get them going again, while all the confidence seems to have drained form Boro, who were always vulnerable to that because of their youth. But really, it could be anybody. West Brom have some very winnable home games left, and although you'd fear for Stoke with their away record, I saw them at Chelsea recently and was pretty impressed. Newcastle are floundering, Sunderland could go either way, even Hull I don't think are safe.

What blackmail material does Harry Redknapp have over the sports editors of the major media outlets, considering what an easy ride he gets?

Harry is charismatic, always willing to chat, and plays the media game very well. He makes journalists' lives easy. It's not rocket science.

The paranoia that surrounds a lot of clubs is bewildering and I'm sure counter-productive.

And as a man of all knowledge, is there a bias by the media against the non london/ManU/Liverpool clubs? Or are we just paranoid?

Most journalists struggle to get dressed in the morning, never mind organise a mass conspiracy. Yes, we all support teams, and sometimes that comes through, although I personally have found I tend to be harder on Sunderland than on other teams, just because I get more frustrated by their errors.

That said, it is increasingly difficult to sell stories on non-Big Four sides to editors. To an extent that's obvious – which sells more, a board screaming 'SCANDAL AT CHELSEA' or one screaming 'SCANDAL AT STOKE'? – but I think it's probably gone too far now. It's very easy, particularly as economic conditions worsen, to go for the safe, lowest-common denominator option, but I suspect a lot of readers get as bored as I do trotting through the same old guff about the Big Four.

And something Sunderland and Blackburn both suffer is that they're a long way from London which, naturally, is where most journalists live (partly because it's where most people live, partly because it's where most national papers are based, and partly because it makes travelling abroad easier). So it's more likely I turn up knackered and grouchy after a bad journey at Blackburn than at Chelsea, which is 30 minutes walk from my flat. And we appreciate grounds, like Newcastle or Peterborough, that are a short walk from a major station.

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Very interesting answers there, cheers for the preview Flops.

I probably said this after the last preview he did, but 'Inverting the Pyramid' is a really good read too. Quite pricey (unless there's a paperback now) but definitely worth it.

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Is Diouf cup tied?

I guess we will rest a few key players (Grella,Pedersen, Warnock,Nelsen, McCarthy).Hope we have one new face in the door as well.

Andrews got a gash so will recover by the week-end cerainly and might be OK for Wednesday.

Bert's knee needs a scan and could be serious.

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Diouf is cup tied yes. I wonder if Sunderland knew Diouf was bound to end up here, thus played him in the FA cup and have him cup tied. Can anybody give me a brief discription of the book mentioned above, or know of a website where i can read a preview of it?


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I'd like to see us go for this one, Sunderland played today so had a day's less rest and are perhaps more likely to rest players, Cisse who went off today could well be out.

I hope we go for it, get a win here and we've got a decent home tie in the next round, with a combination of luck of the draw and some good results there is no reason why we don't have a shot at reaching the final.

We are capable of beating anyone on our day apart from perhaps the big four who could well play a weakened side anyway if we don't avoid them in future draws.

It could do wonders for confidence and team morale if we progressed to the latter stages, too much is made of resting players at times, I don't see where one game can make all the difference with the obvious exceptions of Tugay and Dunn if not fully fit.

I'd settle for a cup final and 17th :) Who know's maybe we could even nick it and end up in Europe!

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Get yer shovels out and about the stadium, otherwise it will be called off as an unsafe place for spectators. Even thought the pitch will probably be playable.

Health and Safety wont allow snowballs to be thrown at players!

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