O’Neill says FA Cup has been boost to Sunderland season

Martin O'Neill
Martin O'Neill
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MARTIN O’Neill says he sees the FA Cup as a help rather than a hindrance to Sunderland’s season.

And, ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Everton, he’s hoping that the two competitions can drive his side along in the closing stages of the campaign.

“I’m a believer in having a good cup run to go alongside the league – I always have been,” he said.

“There was an occasion when I was at Aston Villa – and some people are still talking about it now – when I played a particularly young side in the Uefa Cup.

“The suggestion was that I hadn’t taken the competition seriously, but that was a lot more complicated a situation than it might have first appeared to people.

“It was the last 32 of the competition, but we were third or fourth in the Premier League at the time and with a small squad, too.

“The same boys had played week in, week out and we were getting into the last 12-13 games of the season and we had to think of what was the best way to go.

“We had drawn 1-1 in the first leg against CSKA Moscow, but we had to go there, travel a long way and play on a plastic pitch and there were a lot of things to consider.

“I played a weakened team and, unfortunately, we lost.

“Ironically enough, the weakened side were all the young players that people were calling out for to be given runs out, but we still lost and went out.

“It was disappointing, but it was an unusual situation.

“We hoped we would win it, but we also needed to protect our squad for the league run-in and the priority of finishing as high up the table as we could.

“That occasion always springs to mind now when I look back on cups.

“But, generally speaking, I’m a big believer in the cups, I always want to do well in them and, in this instance, a combination of the two, league and cup, has kept us going.

“I think it has genuinely been beneficial for us, rather than the opposite.”

O’Neill concedes, though, that he might have had to look again at things had Sunderland’s plight in the league remained as perilous as it was when he first arrived back in December.

“Yes, I’m also well aware that things have fallen for us,” he admitted.

“I’m aware that we’d won a couple of league games before going in to face Peterborough.

“I’m not sure what my position would have been, for example, if we had only 25 points on the board this weekend going into the Everton game.

“You’ve got look at your priorities.

“But, by the time came for us to play Peterborough, we had won games against Blackburn, QPR, Man City and Wigan and we were able to go for it.”