The streets of Wearside will be deserted later today as hoards of Mackems shake off the January blues to descend on Teesside for a little respite from the woes of league football.
4,500 Sunderland fans will throng in to the Riverside Stadium’s South Stand this afternoon to face a local rival we’ve only ever lost once to in the FA Cup. Today’s clash is the ninth between the two local rivals in the world’s oldest knockout competition.
That was 43 years ago in the Fourth Round of 1974-75 when nearly 40,000 were inside Ayresome Park to witness Jack Charlton’s Middlesbrough beat Bob Stokoe’s Sunderland. Much of the ‘73 Cup winning squad took to the pitch to face a Boro side featuring Graeme Souness.
Pop Robson opened the scoring for the visitors but a Bobby Murdoch goal levelled things before the break, and two second half penalties from Jack Hickton handed as the Teessiders passage progressed to the semi-finals.
This afternoon’s tie may see the side managed by Tony Poolis as the hot favourites at odds of 4/7 but Sunderland have nothing to lose and realistically little interest in progressing in the Cup, with a league crisis continuing. The capped one has insisted he’s taking this afternoon seriously and that he won’t be fielding a weakened side.
Chris Coleman has no option to play anything but a weakened side of course, with at least a dozen first team players out injured and leading scorer Lewis Grabban returning to Bournemouth.
The Black Cats boss had hoped to move quickly in the transfer market and bring in a body ahead of this afternoon but with clubs around the country shuffling squads for Third Round weekend, that hasn’t materialised.
Injuries to most of Sunderland’s central midfielders may afford England Under-19 regular Elliot Embleton and Ethan Robson the chance to get on the pitch. The former has only made one senior outing for the Black Cats and the latter has a couple of appearances to his name.
It’ll be a young Sunderland matchday squad at the Riverside roared on by a big travelling contingent. James Vaughan was utterly atrocious on New Years Day against Barnsley but is the only senior striker at the club and may be preferred to 19-year-old Josh Maja up front for the early stages.
The back-line should retain a reasonably experienced look with Chris Coleman hinting Marc Wilson may start alongside O’Shea and Browning despite not being fully fit. Adam Matthews is out though which should see Donald Love continue at right-back with Bryan Oviedo called upon at left-back.
Predicted result: Neither side will fancy a replay and the home side will expect to progress with ease...so 1-1