“IT’S not about Manchester United tomorrow: it’s about us!”
That’s the message head coach Gus Poyet is driving home to his Sunderland players ahead of tomorrow’s game against the resurgent Red Devils.
United are well on their way to their worst league finish in almost a quarter of a century, but the sacking of ex-Everton boss David Moyes, just nine months after succeeding United icon Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, was followed by a 4-0 win over Norwich City under home-grown hero Ryan Giggs last weekend.
And now, with their last three games to come against Sunderland, Hull City and Southampton, United fans are dreaming of a more traditional end to the season and a string of victories.
But despite the renewed interest and hope surrounding the Theatre of Dreams, Poyet says Sunderland must concentrate only on themselves.
“People ask whether I would prefer Manchester United to be in good form or not, or missing key players,” said the Black Cats’ boss.
“But, me, I would prefer that we go and perform.
“We need to go there and use our qualities.
“If Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck, Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie play, and they are all at the top, top level, it is going to be very difficult.
“So we need to make sure that we bring them down in their quality to a certain level where we can go and take advantage.
“We have done it against Manchester City and we have done it against Chelsea.
“The idea is to see it as another opportunity – a massive one.
“It is going to be extremely difficult, but if we have a good day, anything can happen.”
It is 46 years since Sunderland last won at Old Trafford – although the Black Cats’ Capital One Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out there just four months ago certainly felt like a win!
Sunderland went to Manchester with a 2-1 lead from the first leg and, although they lost the second leg 2-1 after extra-time, the tie is remembered for Vito Mannone’s penalty shoot-out heroics as the Wearsiders went through to the final.
And Poyet says that, tomorrow, Sunderland have to draw strength and encouragement from memories of January’s memorable visit.
“It’s going to be a very special game for everybody,” said the Uruguayan.
“We have been there already this season and done very well.
“But it’s different now, with Ryan Giggs now in charge.
“We know they are going to be confident because of what happened last weekend, but it will be the same for us, because we beat Cardiff.
“It should be a very good game.”
* Don’t miss the top report and reaction from Manchester United-Sunderland tomorrow, plus the biggest and best coverage of SAFC and local football, in the online Football Echo. It’s available on this website from around 6.45pm tomorrow.