MARTIN O’Neill admits he never expected as big a night for Sunderland to come around so soon after taking over the club, as this evening’s FA Cup quarter-final replay against Everton.
But he intends to make the most of the occasion and hopes that the mouthwatering clash does not mark the end of the road for the Black Cats’ cup dreams.
He told the Echo: “When I first took over the club, I’ll have to be honest, a cup run was the furthest thing from my mind.
“It was all about saving the club from relegation.
“We were just outside the bottom three and we were in a precarious position so doing well in the cup wasn’t uppermost in my mind.
“But one of the strokes of luck we had along the way was winning consecutive games against Manchester City and Wigan in the league, which allowed us to give our full attention to the Peterborough cup game, which came up next.
“Maybe, having reached the 40 point mark at the weekend against QPR, we can once again benefit from being able to give the cup our full attention tonight.
“But it’s going to be difficult because this is such a massive game for us.
“When I first came to Sunderland, a few months ago, I was hopeful that we could avoid relegation and go on to have some success here, some big nights over the course of time. But I didn’t expect such a big night to come around quite so soon.
“We’re in the last eight of the FA Cup with a chance to reach the semi-finals and a trip to Wembley if we can win this game tonight.
“It’s a really exciting tie in prospect.
“And with so much at stake for both sides I’m sure it’s going to be an intense occasion.”
John O’Shea and Kieran Richardson are both out of tonight’s game with minor strains. But skipper Lee Cattermole and rested duo Phil Bardsley and Seb Larsson are set to return.
O’Neill said: “I think it will be an intense game, just like the first one at Goodison Park.
“We took a lot of fans down there that day and they made a terrific noise. Everton will reciprocate tonight when they bring 6,000 fans but we’re going to have a big crowd and whatever happens I think it’s going to be a great occasion.
“Hopefully it will be one of those nights that Sunderland fans are talking about afterwards for all the right reasons.”