Martin O’Neill: Time to change focus!

FOCUSED ... Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill.
FOCUSED ... Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill.
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MARTIN O’Neill says the FA Cup will not act as a distraction going into tonight’s Premier League game against Blackburn Rovers.

The Black Cats have a tough task on their hands with this evening’s game coming just three days after an energy-sapping FA Cup quarter-final at Goodison Park. Blackburn, by contrast, have had 10 days in which to rest and recuperate.

Sunderland, meanwhile, has caught cup fever with queues around the block for tickets for the cup replay next Tuesday at the Stadium of Light.

But O’Neill insists he and his players will put thoughts of the cup on the back burner going into league games against Rovers and, on Saturday, Queens Park Rangers.

“The league games are obviously very important, regardless of the cup,” he said.

“Of course it’s great that we’re in with a chance of a potential semi-final in the FA Cup if we can get through next week. But for now we have to concentrate only on Blackburn Rovers, which is an important game for us.

“If we win it, it takes us to 40 points which would be an important milestone for us. But we know it will be tough because they’ve been going very well in the league themselves and will be looking for a win to really begin pulling them away from the relegation zone.

“They’re on a decent run and will fancy their chances I’m sure.

“They won at Old Trafford and I’m sure that with the best will in the world they wouldn’t have expected to do that – so to do that gives them a boost in confidence when it comes to playing teams ahead of them.”

Tonight’s opponents will inevitably send the minds of Sunderland supporters back to early December when Rovers came up to the Stadium of Light for Martin O’Neill’s first game in charge.

“It was a game that’s hard to forget for me,” smiled O’Neill.

“With 10 minutes to go, we’re trailing by a goal and then David Vaughan hits an amazing equaliser before Seb Larsson gives us all three points in the last minute.

“It was a great win for us and we haven’t looked back much since. But Blackburn will be really up for this game, I expect.

“They’ve seen teams below them play at the weekend and not get wins and they have this great incentive of knowing that a good result against us will improve their situation considerably.”