On Saturday, Sunderland host Southampton in the fifth round of the FA Cup. The Black Cats then have to travel to the Emirates next week to try and take points off Arsenal, before a relegation six-pointer against West Bromwich Albion. March then kicks off with a trip to Wembley to face Manchester City in the League Cup semi-final.
With all that on Sunderland’s plate, is it really any wonder that manager Gus Poyet said he’d rather take a loss in the FA Cup than face a replay?
Under Poyet, Sunderland have finally lifted themselves from dead last in the Premier League. But that doesn’t mean they’re safe – far from it. The Black Cats are still in the relegation zone, having a worse goal difference than West Brom, with whom they’re tied on points. Having to face Arsenal and Liverpool, with the Baggies and the Cup challenge in between, can’t have Poyet feeling fantastic about his side’s chances on digging themselves out of the bottom three.
And so it’s easy to agree with the Sunderland manager when he says a loss would be better than a replay, adding yet another fixture to the crowded schedule. “The last thing we want to do is a Wigan,” says Poyet, referring to Wigan beating Manchester City in the FA Cup last year, but getting relegated to the Championship in the same season. Perhaps a comparison with Birmingham City is more apt, as in 2011, the Blues beat Arsenal to lift the League Cup, only to find themselves relegated. Three seasons later, they remain in the Championship.
While it would certainly be nice for Sunderland fans to watch their side lift some silverware, Poyet’s got it right this time. And it’s not as though he’s saying he’ll field a weakened side to focus on league play (although we’ll see when the lineups come out). But the Black Cats still have a chance for survival, particularly with the bottom half of the table so tight this season. Better the Premier League than a hollow draw with the Saints.