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Unequal Rewards For Cup Losers Is Not A Bad Thing For Sunderland

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European football always looks like fun, but only if you have the squad to cope with it.

So nice to get this fine looking man back on our pages...
So nice to get this fine looking man back on our pages...
Paul Gilham

As Hull City faced off against Arsenal in the FA Cup final already safely assured of their place in next season's Europa League regardless of the result, I dare say there were a few envious glares from Sunderland fans.

The quarter final defeat to the Tigers remains a sore subject with many. It was a week after Wembley, Gus Poyet played a weakened team, and the defeat was fairly comprehensive in the end. Given the scenes in London just a week before, it left a bit of a bitter taste.

It is a perk of the rules that the runners-up in the FA Cup receive a place in Europe should the winners already be in the Champions League yet the runners-up in the League Cup do not. The Europa League place that Manchester City passed up for beating Sunderland in March has gone to Tottenham Hotspur, the sixth placed team in the Premier League.

Is there a huge inequality there? Well, for me, yes. Particularly since Sunderland beat three of the Premier League's top eight en-route to Wembley whilst Hull only played one top tier side on their way, and they were bottom of the league at that point. So it does rankle a little, at first, but I guess rules are rules.

It is probably a blessing in disguise though.

Don't get me wrong, it's a burning desire to see Sunderland in Europe for just about all of us and I am no different. It must be a tremendous experience and, one day, it will be. I'm not sure it would have been this coming year though.

In fact, this year it is enough of a worry trying to envisage how Gus Poyet and Lee Congerton can cobble together a squad capable of coping with the demands of the Premier League, never mind juggling it with Europa League commitments too.

As things stand, discounting loanees, Phil Bardsley is the only full back on Sunderland's books and his current contract expires in six weeks. Of the central midfield players who occupied the positions for most of the season, only Liam Bridcutt and Lee Cattermole are contracted to still be here on the first day of pre-season training, and they both vie for the same holding role.

There is only one senior goalkeeper left with Oscar Ustari expected to move on in search of regular football. The only striker who got into double figures, Fabio Borini, is already playing games again for Liverpool. There is no proven or experienced centre back cover for veteran pair John O'Shea and Wes Brown.

The situation isn't completely desperate. Depending on how generous Ellis Short is feeling, a few careful additions will make a big difference. There is a very solid spine to build around with Mannone, O'Shea, Brown, Cattermole and Connor Wickham. There is also the pedigree of Adam Johnson and Emanuele Giaccherini, as well as what will hopefully be a rejuvenated Steven Fletcher.

So I don't think there will be major surgery of the kind we say last summer. I think quality can be targeted over quantity.

That wouldn't be the case if there was Europe to play in too, though. If you're going to take Europe seriously which, to be honest, the fans would rightly demand, you either have a big and powerful squad or you suffer in the league. It has something that has been proven again and again.

Newcastle went from a top five finish to a January panic-buying spree to avoid a relegation scrap when they were in the Europa League. Swansea flirted with the drop more than they should have this season. It will be interesting to see how Hull get on given the dreaded "second season syndrome" to contend with as well as a squad that drifted into a bottom five finish.

Europe can wait for Sunderland. We've been waiting forever anyway, so what's a bit longer?

Right now we just need to fully focus on making sure something like last season doesn't happen again. Get the summer recruitment right, get Poyet on the training ground all week delivering his message, and re-establish our Premier league footing.