Sunderland 1 Southampton 0
Whoever opted to play The Jam’s ‘That’s Entertainment’ over the PA system in the wake of this dirge wasn’t the only one with a sense of humour.
“You’re telling me,” conceded Gus Poyet, when asked to reflect on the increasingly knife-edge nature Sunderland’s campaign is taking.
The prospect of two Wembley finals is shortening by the round, as is the potentially catastrophic consequences the subsequent fixture backlog could have on their hopes of staving-off relegation from the Premier League. Unbridled joy, or utter despair. Either way, it won’t be long before we know which one it will be.
“I’d like to book my holidays,” the head coach reflected after an eighth home cup victory of a campaign that makes Messers Jekyll and Hyde appear the model of consistency. Poyet added: “If we go down, I’m going to hide somewhere in the middle of Asia. If we stay up, you’ll see me in every single paper on the beach somewhere famous.”
Like the rest of Wearside, its travel agents await the outcome with bated breath. Down the road at Middlesbrough 17 years ago, their progress to both domestic cup finals — losing each time — was accompanied by relegation. To say that there hasn’t been talk of a repeat in these parts would be erroneous.
“There are lessons we must take from the cup run,” added Poyet, whose Capital One Cup finalists are a single victory away from a second Wembley visit this season, having secured their place in the last eight despite having comfortably outdone Southampton when it came to resting key personnel.
Sunderland face at least 15 games in a 79-day spell before the end of the season — up to 17 or 18 if they replicate their League Cup exploits. Poyet added: “In the league, we still seem to have that mentality where we think there is time. There isn’t. Yet that craziness of ‘today, it could finish’ in the cup seems to have brought the best out of us.”
‘Best’ is stretching a point from an encounter where tedium reigned for long spells. Craig Gardner produced two seconds of inspiration amidst the ineptitude, the midfielder pouncing on a misplaced Jos Hooiveld clearance to crash home his third goal of the season just after the break. Having been a game in need of a goal, it became a goal in need of a game.
Poyet had gone into the contest voicing his opinion that replays should be done away with. Perhaps Rickie Lambert had listened too intently, shovelling an unbelievably bad shot over an unguarded goal from three yards to spare Sunderland from a further fixture.
SUNDERLAND (4-1-3-2): Ustari 8; Celustka 8, Vergini 7, O’Shea 7, Dossena 6 (Alonso 78, 7); Cattermole 8; Larsson 5, Gardner 7 (Colback 83, 6) Giaccherini 5; Scocco 4 (Wickham 69, 5), Borini 5.
SOUTHAMPTON (4-2-3-1): K Davis 6; Clyne 7, Yoshida 6, Hooiveld 4, Shaw 5; S Davis 5, Wanyama 5; Ward-Prowse 5 (Schneiderlin 62, 5), Lallana 6 (McQueen 82, 5), Do Prado 4 (Gonzalez 62, 5); Lambert 4.
Referee: Mike Dean 7.
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