FOR Sunderland, the road to Hull is paved with good intentions.
Exhilarated by the derby win, buoyed by moving off the bottom of the table and boosted by a good week in training, Gus Poyet’s men will turn out at the KC Stadium tomorrow full of hope and positivity.
But they must beware the bogeyman; beware the ghost of Sunderland’s past in this post-Halloween clash – in short, they must beware ex-Black Cats’ boss Steve Bruce.
For there’s no doubt that the Geordie is THE dangerman as far as Sunderland’s plans go tomorrow.
True, a manager never scored a goal or made a save in a game – but they mastermind multitudes of victories.
And Bruce has both the motive and the motivation to twist the knife in the guts of his former employers tomorrow.
He is professional enough to say the right things to the media in the run-up to the game, about how he was disappointed it didn’t work out on Wearside, how he felt he might have been given a bit more time, how he is saddened to see them in their current plight, how it is all water under the bridge now.
Don’t believe a word of it.
Bruce would love nothing better than to add to Sunderland’s agony tomorrow.
And he will be stressing to his players that beating the Black Cats they would put a huge nail in the Wearsiders’ Premier League coffin.
If the Tigers tear Sunderland apart tomorrow he will tell them, the odds of any side coming back from picking up four points in more than a quarter of a season are miniscule – one less relegation place for Hull to worry about.
And, with Crystal Palace already looking dead in the water, he’ll point out that a win over Sunderland would pretty much two seal two of the three places in the drop zone.
What better motivation could there be for the home team?
Then he’ll look at the individuals who will feel they have a point to prove.
Ex-Magpie Steve Harper will need no team-talk.
And Paul McShane, Ahmed Elmohamady and David Meyler are all ex-Sunderland players – he will challenge the trio to show/remind their former club exactly what they missed out on in letting them go.
He will have to lift weary minds and bodies after two tough-to-take defeats to Spurs in league and cup.
But he will drive home the fact that beating his old club is the perfect way to bounce back and the ideal way for the players put a bad week behind them – when the Black Cats step out on Humberside, he wants crouching tigers lying in ambush.
So Sunderland must understand that although Hull are a newly-promoted side coming into the game off the back of three defeats, they are also a uniquely motivated team who will have targeted tomorrow’s game and who will fight with all the tooth and claw associated with their nickname.
There will be no giving up from Bruce or his side – the rewards are too great, the emotions too deep.
And the key for Gus Poyet and his Black Cats is to be aware of all this; to appreciate that, although the win over Newcastle has done wonders psychologically for Sunderland, the real work is just beginning now.
They have to appreciate that they will have to work just as hard, if not even harder, against Hull than they did against Newcastle.
True, they will have advantages – confidence for one, and unlike Hull, they have not played a demanding cup tie in midweek and don’t find them themselves beset with injuries.
But they CANNOT afford to under-estimate a team managed by Steve Bruce, who has a habit of getting one over on his former clubs.
The victory over Newcastle gave everyone at Sunderland a colossal lift – it is vital now that the feel-good factor is not wasted by any sense of complacency or over-confidence.
For Sunderland, the road to Hull has to be full of steely resolve and iron will, as well as good intent.