IF SUNDERLAND are to get to Wembley again in the Capital One Cup, their first step is to overcome Birmingham City at the end of this month.
No doubt plenty of Premier League clubs will feel they have more important issues, but as we found out last year, if you take the competition seriously and get to the final, it can give the fans an experience and memories to last a lifetime and we didn’t even win it!
When asked at the start of the season what they want from their team, a huge majority of supporters from all clubs would have a trip to Wembley near the top of their wish-list.
Birmingham will be a tricky tie, but Sunderland will expect to make progress, even if Gus Poyet gives a few of his squad players a run-out.
Birmingham stayed up last season by the skin of their teeth and I saw the scenes in their last game at Bolton where a very late goal ensured their safety - leading to manager Lee Clark celebrating their survival with the Birmingham fans behind the goal.
Clark, of course being an ex-Sunderland player whose departure from the Stadium of Light was so controversial, will add spice to the tie and he will definitely want to put one over on his former club.
Nobody could complain with Clark’s performances on the pitch for Sunderland, but he gave Peter Reid no option but to move him on when the t-shirt incident became public. It soured his time at the Stadium of Light.
With Birmingham having won this trophy a couple of seasons ago and Sunderland getting to the final last year, both clubs and their fans will recognise the value of a good run in the Capital One Cup and the benefits it can bring.
So if Sunderland are to go one step further than they did last year in this competition, then Birmingham must be treated with respect and the players must approach the game with the same attitude that they would take into a Premier League game.