MARTIN O’NEILL hopes that Everton’s exertions in the Merseyside derby will take their toll in Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Sunderland.
Black Cats boss O’Neill was at Anfield last night – alongside goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh – to watch the Toffees’ nine-game unbeaten run reach an abrupt halt with a 3-0 Premier League defeat to neighbours Liverpool.
Everton will need to pick themselves up quickly from the trauma of derby defeat, as Sunderland head to Goodison Park this weekend looking to secure a cup semi-final spot for the first time since 2004.
The Wearsiders punished Arsenal after the Gunners suffered a demoralising midweek defeat prior to their fifth round meeting – Arsene Wenger’s side beaten 4-0 by AC Milan in the last 16 of the Champions League just 72 hours before the trip to the Stadium of Light.
While travelling won’t be a factor for Everton, O’Neill believes Sunderland’s extra rest between games won’t hurt their chances on Saturday lunchtime.
O’Neill told the Echo: “I think it is a tough game, a really tough match – and I’m quite pleased they played last night.
“With Arsenal, they played in the Champions League on the Wednesday, whereas Everton’s game was 24 hours earlier on the Tuesday.
“And even though Everton were away from home, they are only travelling about a mile!
“So that might negate some of the advantage we might have had against Arsenal.
“But the very fact that Everton had a midweek derby before we play against them on Saturday can only work in our favour, in terms of tiredness, or picking up injuries.
“If there is any kind of advantage to be had, I would prefer them to be playing rather than not.”
The physical demands of three games in a week will be lessened after Everton boss David Moyes made six changes to his starting line-up last night.
But O’Neill believes there is still a mental toll that stems from derbies, particularly after skipper Steven Gerrard’s hat-trick ended Everton’s hopes of leapfrogging Liverpool into seventh place in the Premier League.
“A lot depends on the result, at least as far as Everton’s confidence is concerned,” added O’Neill.
“But derbies can be quite draining both mentally and physically.”