I HAVEN’T looked forward to a cup game as much as I’m looking forward to Sunderland’s game against Middlesbrough this weekend in ages.
If you could have picked a tie for Sunderland, then this would probably be it.
We have home advantage. We have a team from a lower division that we’ll be favourites to beat.
And although it’s not a true derby, Middlesbrough are local enough to give the game a real edge.
Regular readers of this column will know how much I love the cups, despite the best efforts of the powers-that-be to downgrade them. Playing semi-finals at Wembley is a big mistake in my view, devaluing the final; as is holding the cup final before the end of the season.
But I can’t help but think Sunderland could do well in the competition.
There are four or five all-Premier League ties in this round, with Manchester City already knocked out.
And if Sunderland can successfully negotiate the challenge of Boro, it could be a fascinating, and exciting draw for the next round.
I am disappointed, though, that Boro have only been allocated 3,000 tickets for the game this Sunday.
The tie seems to have caught the imagination of the Teesside public, who have a game against their local rivals and Premier League opposition in a game being played out just up the A19.
I’m sure they could have sold twice as many at the very least and not only would that helped create a more memorable atmosphere, it would also have brought in a lot more revenue.
The big disappointment is that Julio Arca’s late sending-off at Coventry on Saturday will prevent him from playing in the game.
He was one of my favourite players in red and white and the fact that he’s kept up his strong links with Sunderland since his move to Teesside means he has remained very popular with our fans.
It would have been great to have seen him play and I’m sure he would have received a great reception from our supporters.
Mind you, I’m sure he’ll be spotted at the game this Sunday, and get a few chants of ‘Julio’ sent in his direction.