THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Black Cats' chance to save season

icon cups7 January ~ This is Sunderland's seventh consecutive Premier League season. Depressingly, it is also our longest stretch in one division since a first-ever relegation in 1958. Sunderland supporters are accustomed to going up and down – I've seen nine promotions and relegations in the last 24 years. But we're not used to winning trophies. In the same period, there's been just one FA Cup final defeat. Tonight, we're playing Manchester United in a League Cup semi-final and this year I'd gladly take a cup win over our Premier League status.

Maybe that's easy to say this season. Unless the team starts scoring, relegation looks likely and I've already started to accept that possibility. We've only won three games but this year's league is so poor we're still only four points from safety. That gap can be made up, but only if we can beat the teams around us. Defeat to Aston Villa in our last league game and goalless draws with Norwich and West Ham were all missed opportunities to make up huge ground.

It's maddening that the club has been allowed to get in this position once again, mostly through bad managerial appointments. Relegation is a scary prospect and, as always, would have serious financial ramifications. Toiling year after year in the Premier League is no fun either, but we're all regularly reminded that football is mostly about money.

Yet we're the only club left with a 100 per cent record in the cups. The victory in the last round of the League Cup against Chelsea showed many of the positives Gus Poyet has instilled in the team and Sunderland deservedly got through with a mixture of determination, application and pragmatic but skilful football.

What happens tonight depends on which Sunderland turn up and the mood of our opponents. If it's the Sunderland that beat Chelsea, fought back late against Cardiff and surprised Everton on Boxing Day, we stand a good chance of taking a hopeful result to Old Trafford. If Sunderland are the insipid bunch that huffs and puffs to little effect or crumbles with a calamitous own goal, silly red card or bad refereeing decision, the tie could be over very quickly.

Then there's Manchester United. After their FA Cup exit on Sunday, this could be a good time to attack a side lacking in confidence. Several clubs have shown that United can be beaten at Old Trafford this season. But this competition is now their last realistic chance of winning a trophy. While a "crisis" at one of the bigger clubs is always enjoyable to watch, this could be a tie too far for United's sticky patch.

Sunderland's only other League Cup final appearance was in 1985, where they lost to Norwich and both clubs were promptly relegated from the top flight. West Ham, now 19th in the Premier League, play Manchester City in the other semi-final this year. I'd prefer to stay up and win a trophy. But if we could beat the Hammers in March, then both go down, it would be a much more memorable season than many others I could mention. Otherwise, I'll settle for 17th. Ed Upright

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