Fan Focus: Manc Musings

Shaun Botterill

We caught up with Callum Hamilton - writer for both SB Nation and Surreal Football - ahead of the Old Trafford leg of our League Cup semi final with Manchester United.

By Manchester United's high standards, its been a poor season so far. Does that make League Cup success imperative for David Moyes, or is silverware a secondary concern to the pursuit of top 4 status?

Callum Hamilton: Well, there's much made of the fact that a League Cup win can be important to instill a winning mentality in a squad. But this lot have already won trophies and titles before. They don't need that. It would have been far nicer for Moyes to win the FA Cup, something we haven't had our hands on for quite a while. But we'll certainly take any silverware going, at least for the fact we can say that Moyes didn't end his first season trophyless. We really want to win this.

How do you rate Moyes' reign so far, or is it too early to be making any sort of judgement?

CH: It's still far too early, particularly since the rest of the league has improved and we haven't, and our best player has been injured for half the year. He should be given until the end of next season at the very least assuming we get in several players by the end of the summer of 2014. Even then, only twice missing out on the top four would completely convince me, unless we bought a team of world-class stars that he completely failed to get anything out of or some other extreme scenario.

The vast majority of United fans feel the same, which for now, is encouraging.

What are your thoughts on the first leg? Did you think it was a fair result?

CH: I thought we were slightly unfortunate to lose, but unless you've been on the wrong end of a bad refereeing decision then I don't think you can ever say you 'deserved' more. Football is about taking chances and not giving them up as much as it is taking control of a game. And I thought it was a stonewall penalty, unlike David Moyes.

It was the second time Sunderland and Manchester United have met this season, with a 2-1 win apiece; did you notice any major differences between the Sunderland that lost under Kevin Ball, to the one that won with Gus Poyet in charge?

CH: I think you've been generally better, just as a result of certain players getting their confidence back. Although you're joint-bottom there's certainly a lot of teams I'd rather be facing.

Januzaj scored the goals for United in their league win on Wearside and was a constant threat in the League Cup game; do you see him as being the man to drag the team back into the tie, or is there someone else Sunderland fans should be wary of?

CH: Assuming Van Persie isn't back, then no. Our only player capable of playing a through-ball and producing real magic without the Dutchman, but more importantly than that, he's someone who steps up when the team is playing badly. We have far too few players who do that. I've seen 18 year-olds with more natural talent, but none that are anywhere near as effective or as balanced. He's capable of regularly influencing and changing tight Premier League games whether he's playing badly or playing well. At eighteen. That is quite simply unprecedented.

I think Welbeck is probably the second most dangerous player to you - I'm sure you'll remember how phenomenal he was at pressing from the front and making it difficult from the opposition from when you had him on loan (the 3-0 against Chelsea being the perfect example) but when played as a striker he's now a ruthless goalscorer too - a goal a game this season in that position.


The away end will be sold out for the game, with 9,000 Sunderland fans opting to pay the £45+ per person ticket price. Is the rest of Old Trafford likely to be full? Any thoughts on the ticket pricing?

CH: Living in Paris, I'm obviously not a matchgoer, so I'm not sure if the ground will be filled out or not. I'd be surprised if there were a lot of empty seats, at least. Obviously £45 is an extortionate amount to charge for any game. I'm surprised United are charging that much for a League Cup game, even if it is a finely-balanced semi-final. Our ticket prices have gone up at a phenomenal rate since the Glazer takeover but they're still not as bad as the likes of Arsenal (although obviously a part of that is down to the fact we can get much bigger crowds in.)

Finally, what do you think the score will be on the night?

CH: That depends on who we start. If Van Persie is fit by then I'd be very confident. If Rooney is, i'd be slightly more confident. If one of Fletcher or Jones gets a start in midfield I'll be slightly more confident too. With none of those, honestly, it'd be about 50/50.

I'm going to say it'll be 2-1, with the game going to penalties. Which I think we would hopefully win, given De Gea's reflexes, although I wouldn't exactly be confident.

It sounds like Moyes and Manchester United will be just as up for this one as us. It promises to be a thrilling night of football and a great atmosphere. Thanks to Callum for taking the time to give us his thoughts and insight ahead of the game. Give him a follow on Twitter @Callum_TH and check out his SB Nation profile, with links to his writing here, SBNation. Also be sure to have a look at @SurrealFootball for some, well, surrealness.

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