Amidst all this cup fever and scramble for Quarter Final tickets, the fact that Sunderland actually have a midweek Premier League game has somewhat caught up on us. It isn't our fault, of course. We blame Martin O'Neill. Actually being involved in stuff in March and all that other antics that actual relevant and decent clubs get up to... jeeesh... we are flying somewhat blind here.
Anyway, time to check in with someone who knows the opposition considerably better than we do. We are delighted to welcome Tony Sassine, editor of Vital Blackburn into the Fan Focus hot seat, and extend our extra gratitude to him for stepping in at short notice due to our Wembley day-dreaming.
Lets take a peak over that fence...
THE big news at Blackburn this season has been the fans unhappiness with Steve Kean and the Venky's ownership of the club, although that appears to have been put on the back foot to some extent of late. What's the latest with that at the moment?
Tony: The fans are frustrated. We have a decent football squad who really should be pushing for at the least a midtable position. The frustrations showed via several protests, marches and banners directed initially at Kean, but now onto the bigger target of our owners, Venkys. The problem is and always has been the severe lack of communication as well as the mismanagement of the club by Venkys. Steve Kean is out of his depth, I won't go into rumours about the manager, but what is fact is he has an extremely poor managerial record, and as you know yourself, the best thing to do is make a change. Sunderland were not too far from the drop zone, but when O'Neill took over, it has been onwards and upwards since.
Protests are still being organised, as is the proposed Supporters takeover through BRIST. It will be interesting to see how this develops on.
Blackburn have pulled off a couple of huge wins in recent weeks and hurled themselves out of the relegation zone. What, in your opinion, has been responsible for such an improvement in results?
Tony: Things just happen in football. Sometimes you are on, sometimes you are off. When the likes of Junior Hoilett, Yakubu and Steve N'Zonzi are on form, we stand a very good chance of matching it with the best, as indicated by previous wins over Arsenal and Man United. The victories over QPR and Wolves have seen us leap out of the drop zone, but we need more consistency. We have only had 2 players who have been consistent all year, Martin Olsson and Paul Robinson who have guided our young squad.
I think that for many neutrals Rovers are now favourites to escape the drop. You must fancy your chances now?
Tony: With our squad you just never know. Fortunately we picked up those 2 massive wins whilst teams around us slumped to losses. The future is currently in our hands but the way we have been playing a poor run is just around the corner. I am much more confident now then what I was at Christmas time though!
When Blackburn arrived at The Stadium of Light in December both clubs were in a similar position. Have you been surprised to see Sunderland's level of improvement since that day?
Tony: Not at all. I was actually praying that Kean would get sacked and we would snap up O'Neill. What Martin has done is instil discipline and unity in your squad. Steve Bruce could do neither and the results showed. You have a good squad and your position is now reflecting exactly where your club should be.
Cup fever really seems to have a grip on Wearside at the moment. What effect, if any, do you think Sunderland's cup run will have on the night?
Tony: For Rovers, I think it is the perfect situation. Sunderland can not make Europe through the league, and they can not be relegated as well. We hope O'Neill does indeed have one eye on the Cup as a route into Europe. With us not playing on the weekend, the extended break should help the squad after what was a hectic early season schedule. Hopefully the pace of Olsson and Hoilett can take advantage of any fatigued Sunderland legs!
Where do you see Blackburn winning the game? What areas of the Sunderland team will they look to exploit?
Tony: Rovers really only have Plan A, and this usually shows early on whether we will be in the game or not. Our flanks are our primary weapon. The pace and explosiveness of Junior Hoilett, Martin Olsson and now Marcus Olsson have troubled defenders all season. If these men can get outside and past their man, it allows Yakubu and co to get into dangerous positions. And as they say, Feed the Yak and he will score, the big man is due after a quiet couple of games. So Rovers will target the flanks and try to expose the Sunderland defence.
And, conversely, who or what in the Sunderland team worry you most coming into the game?
Tony: Rovers fans breathed a big sigh of relief knowing Sessengnon and Cattermole are out of this fixture. Both fantastic players in their own right with the ability to turn a game on its head. Seb Larsson and Keiran Richardson are two players who have troubled us in the past. Richardson is like Hoilett, direct, attacking and dangerous whilst Larsson can be so composed as well as providing a deadly free kick.
Can we coax a prediction out of you?
Tony: My Heart tells me a 2-1 victory to the Blues, but we have not managed consecutive wins in a long, long time so I fancy a 1-1 draw. Yakubu to break the drought and John O'Shea to score his first of the season.