MARTIN O’NEILL says he has faced his toughest selection decisions as Sunderland boss this week as the Black Cats head towards Tuesday’s huge FA Cup quarter-final replay against Everton.
A place in the Wembley semi-final against Liverpool awaits the winner of the midweek clash at the Stadium of Light, but O’Neill says winning league points has still been a top priority.
The team fell short at Blackburn on Tuesday, with the Black Cats squad showing signs of wear and tear in the 2-0 defeat at Ewood Park, and O’Neill has been considering his options for today’s league game against QPR, with the cup clash at the back of his mind.
He told the Echo: “Of course the FA Cup game against Everton is a massive game for us and fans are rightly excited.
“But the Premier League games is our bread and butter and today’s game against Queens Park Rangers is a very important one for us.
“We still need points to be mathematically safe and the sooner we get to 40 points the better.
“It has been at the forefront of my thinking that I need to get the balance right between both matches.
“I need to give ourselves the best chance of beating Queens Park Rangers before I look at giving ourselves the best chance to beat Everton.
“That has challenged me in terms of who I select for which game, who I leave out, and so on.
“It will not be easy for us because we don’t have the biggest squad but we are not in a position right now to favour one competition over another. We have to look to be strong in both.”
One great plus for O’Neill, though, is having Stephane Sessegnon return from a three-match ban today and skipper Lee Cattermole on Tuesday.
“I’ll be delighted to welcome them back because they are big players for us and we’ve missed them,” he said.
“They could be coming back at exactly the right time for us and while it was far from ideal for us to have them suspended in the first place, hopefully they can come back refreshed and ready to make an impact again.”