Cup Runs: Are They Helping Or Hindering Our Survival Bid?

Michael Regan

Have the magical cup carpet rides had a positive impact on our survival bid? Will the additional games take their toll come the end of the season? Do we really even care after Sunday?

Can anyone remember a season where Sunderland did this well in both cups? Has it ever happened before? We rarely get to finals these days, so the fact that we've made it to one so far is in itself remarkable. Even more astonishingly, we are now just a game away from another Wembley trip, this time in the FA Cup for the semi-finals. If we manage to navigate past Steve Bruce's Hull City at the KC Stadium this Sunday, then there will surely be no doubt that this is our best ever season in the cups.

I've not really considered the relegation situation. In fact, I've not really cared. Who has time to worry about going down when you're excited at the prospect of Wembley and causing an upset? With the FA Cup next on the agenda, it's still not really something I've had time to mull over or even contemplated. I suppose at this point we should ask ourselves whether these cup runs are helping our survival bid, or hindering it? Or, more to the point, what is the effect likely to be when the rearranged league games come thick and fast toward the end of the season?

The logical answer is hinder. Don't get me wrong, there is a definite positive to winning every game you play in. The old "winning breeds winning" cliché rings true. If your squad is confident, it's because they are winning. It doesn't matter which competition it's in.

That's true until you lose. On Sunday, despite everything, we did actually end up as runners up. That's not a criticism of the players, manager or anyone. It's just a simple fact; one which could have a negative impact on the players' confidence. Although we are all rightly proud of every single one of them, losing after playing so well must be a right kick in their collective teeth.

At least in Gus Poyet we have exactly the right man to lift those chins up from the floor and get them back to winning ways. Of course, the next match is yet another cup game. Beating Hull would mean another trip to Wembley. Would that prove to be a distraction for the players, as it seemingly was when we met Arsenal the other week? Or would it motivate them to play their way into the side? Given the changes Poyet made after the defeat at the Emirates, you'd like to think it would act as an inspiration to them.

Time will tell. We may actually lose to Hull. If that was the case, would the players' struggle to lift themselves for the rest of the season? We've seen League Cup winners go down in the past. What about runners up? With the final so early in the season - relatively speaking - it's hard to know what kind of damage the loss may have done to the mentality in the dressing.

Then there's the fixture pile up to consider. Thankfully, despite now having a couple of games in hand against some sides around us, we are still very much in the mix at the bottom. A couple of sides have managed to haul themselves to the brink of safety - West ham and Villa spring to mind - while others, such as Norwich, have shown themselves to be capable of a huge win one week only to follow it up with an incredibly damaging defeat the next.

As things stand though, they have the points on the board. We don't. We're in the bottom three. Just like Wigan were when they had the FA Cup final on their agenda. Eventually, the extra games simply caught up with them and they could not halt their inexorable slide into the Championship. At least they plunged down a level with silverware in their possession. I'm sure their support would take that moment in history over another tedious, relegation threatened season in the top flight.

That's why ultimately, even if that did happen to us, I'd still think this was amongst the best seasons I've had following Sunderland. It would be typical of us to get to the FA Cup final, lose that and get relegated. The ride would've been fantastic though, even if it did end on such a low ebb.

So even if these cup runs do have a negative effect on our league season and the worst happens, just ask yourself, "Would I rather have another 38 games of mediocrity, scrapping for a point against the likes of Swansea every other week, or am I still delighted I got to witness Sunderland at Wembley - maybe even twice, or thrice! - and follow them on a couple of fantastic cup adventures?" I know what I'd choose.

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