Gary Rowell column - Sunderland cannot falter against Fulham in FA Cup

Steven Fletcher.
Steven Fletcher.
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AS SUNDERLAND continue to under-perform in the Premier League, the focus this weekend shifts to the FA Cup with Fulham providing the opposition.

Since winning the derby, Sunderland’s results have nose-dived and we’re in desperate need of a boost. Hopefully a win in the cup and progress to the next round can provide that.

I’m a firm believer that a cup run can help a club improve their league form, rather than it having to be a hindrance.

It can stimulate the fans and provide interest outside the grind of a relegation battle, and if you get a good draw in the fifth round, a trip to Wembley can become a genuine reality.

Yes, some will say a team battling against the drop can do without the distraction of extra games, but for me the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Fulham showed great spirit in their replay against Wolves when they equalised with the last kick of extra-time, then kept their nerve to go through on penalties to earn themselves a trip to Wearside.

They were underdogs in that replay and will be underdogs again on Saturday, but that takes the pressure off them and they can play with freedom, knowing not many will expect Fulham to knock Sunderland out.

On the other hand, Sunderland and especially the fans, will accept nothing less than a win and won’t be in a forgiving mood if they don’t achieve that.

This could be the perfect game for Jermain Defoe to help him get the match fitness he needs, and hopefully his first goal, and it will also give the fans who weren’t at Spurs their first chance to see him in a Sunderland shirt.

There’s no grey areas for Sunderland on Saturday, it’s a game they are expected to win and if they do, it’s job done.

But a defeat or even a draw, which would mean a replay that Gus Poyet will certainly not want, must be out of the equation.