MARTIN O’Neill hopes Sunderland’s cup will runneth over tonight, finally kick-starting the Black Cats’ season into life.
The manager is convinced it is only a matter of time before his side hits top gear and wants this evening’s Capital One Cup tie game against Middlesbrough to give the Black Cats’ a boost they can take into their league programme.
“I’ll make one or two changes tonight but it’s a game we’re still taking very, very seriously,” he told the Echo.
“The cup is very important to us and our fans and we want to progress.
“On the horizon is the prospect of a quarter-final awaiting the winners of this tie.
“And I’m sure Middlesbrough will be thinking the same as ourselves – which is that getting to that stage of the competition would be an achievement in itself.
“We’ve had a stop-start season so far.
“But we have now reached this period in which we’re capable of putting a run together and that’s what we’ve got to look to do between now and Christmas – starting with this cup tie.”
O’Neill goes into the game conscious that Sunderland have already been given a ‘life’ in the competition.
“When Lee Cattermole got sent off so early in the match against MK Dons in the previous round I thought we would have problems,” he admitted..
“To be down to 10 men, away from home, in the first-half, it was always going to be difficult.
“But thankfully we managed to get through that and we’re delighted to have this game to look forward to because I think it really is a game to look forward to.
“It’s a night game, against local rivals in a cup competition so it has all the ingredients to be a great occasion.
“We know Middlesbrough have been in good form and will want to give it a go so we know it is going to be tough.
“But this game gives us the opportunity to reach a quarter-final again and find the sort of good form we would hope to take onwards.”
On a recent scouting mission to the Riverside the Black Cats’ boss was impressed with what he saw.
“I watched Boro against Hull City and they were very competitive,” he added.
“I think we got a taste of them last season in the FA Cup where we had two hard-fought matches that were only ultimately decided by an extra-time goal.
“I don’t imagine it will be too different this time around in terms of how tough and competitive it will be and we have to be aware of that and ready for it from the start.”