Chris Young’s Sunderland big-match analysis: Dare to dream

Jack Colback.
Jack Colback.
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PERHAPS this dramatic transformation under Gus Poyet will all end in tears.

Sunderland will be swatted aside by Manchester United tonight, humbled by Kidderminster in the FA Cup on Saturday and sent plummeting out of the Premier League in May.

But perhaps not.

The 9,000 heading to Old Trafford this evening are beginning to imagine a first cup final in 22 years and so they should. “Dare to dream” was even a phrase trending on Twitter yesterday among Sunderland fans.

After a slightly tepid first leg, tonight’s encounter is the real deal.

This could be one of the most famous nights in Sunderland’s history.

There is a fairytale aspect to taking a club that had hit rock-bottom, slowly turning around their fortunes and eventually leading them out at Wembley.

It might not quite grab the attention of Hollywood script-writers, but Gus Poyet would be taking a whole generation of Sunderland supporters to Wembley for the first time. That is what is at stake.

While the motivation of Premier League players is often questioned, those in the away dressing room tonight will need no help in grasping the magnitude of the occasion.

The statue which lies outside the South East corner of the Stadium of Light is the permanent reminder of how Wearside savours its cup heroes.

Poyet’s side shouldn’t be overawed by the occasion. They should relish the opportunity to send such a huge away following into ecstasy.

But while Sunderland can savour the opportunity to reach the League Cup final for the first time since 1985, Manchester United will be treading gingerly through a minefield.

It’s all got slightly hot under the collar for David Moyes at Old Trafford.

Other than the excellent Adnan Januzaj, Moyes’ men were distinctly ordinary in the first leg. That is not a statement which has applied to Man United too often over the last two decades.

But it wasn’t a one-off from the reigning Premier League champions.

Without world class duo Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, United lack genuine quality in an ageing squad and it will take Moyes a couple of years of rebuilding to develop a side with realistic title credentials.

Time isn’t an option for the former Everton manager though, when the glare of scrutiny is as piercing as it is on Old Trafford.

The Capital One Cup is by far United’s most realistic chance of lifting a trophy this season and that would at least banish the statistic of Moyes never winning silverware.

But being eliminated over two legs against a side who has not been out of the bottom three since August, would prompt another torrent of question marks.

Moyes hasn’t been helped by his side’s inability to do the basics.

Some of United’s defending at Chelsea on Sunday was suicidal and they won’t be helped by the absence of the suspended Nemanja Vidic tonight, while Patrice Evra is an injury doubt after limping off at Stamford Bridge.

Either Chris Smalling will partner Jonny Evans at the back, or Phil Jones will revert to centre-half from central midfield. Whatever the combination, Sunderland will fancy their chances on the counter-attack in Vidic’s absence.

The big poser for Moyes is whether to risk Rooney or van Persie after they both returned to training this week.

Van Persie is not expected to be thrust back into action until next week, but Rooney is a more realistic inclusion, whether from the start or the bench.

Given the pressure on the hosts, Moyes may have to take a chance on the England striker.

Poyet also has a headache over his strike options.

Despite his indifferent form, Steven Fletcher remains Sunderland’s first-choice frontman and Poyet will be eager for the Scot to shake off the Achilles problem which restricted him to an emergency outing from the bench against Southampton.

Replacement Jozy Altidore continued to struggle last Saturday and although the Premier League remains Sunderland’s priority, Fletcher can be risked tonight, with the weekend’s FA Cup clash offering a breather.

Doubtless, there will be a series of changes against Kidderminster, but not this evening.

Other than a potential recall for Fletcher, surely either Jack Colback or Craig Gardner will come in for Seb Larsson after the Swede’s indifferent performance against Southampton.

But as Sunderland have shown with their five-game unbeaten run on the road, the rest of the side is well-balanced away from home - providing Lee Cattermole is included after last night’s Stoke City speculation.

Sunderland have to offer a goal threat though and give the 9,000 away contingent the chance to be an influential presence, albeit they will doubtless out-sing the home presence regardless.

While the advantage from the first leg could prove decisive, the Black Cats can ill-afford to sit back and look to secure a goalless draw. That merely asks for trouble.

But in Adam Johnson, Sunderland perhaps boast the trump card.

Johnson, who will face further stick from home fans due to his Manchester City connections, is a transformed player and this is another chance to demonstrate his England credentials.

Sunderland will look to use the 26-year-old at every opportunity they get and if Johnson can weave some magic to get the Black Cats an early goal, it will utterly transform the tie.

There is no reason why Sunderland’s can’t fulfil that objective.

Yes, United are favourites, but they are not firm ones.

The aura of invincibility at Old Trafford has gone.

This is a golden opportunity for Sunderland to take advantage of that and create a Wearside wonderland at Wembley.

Verdict: Draw