MARTIN O’Neill won’t subscribe to the view that in-form Sunderland are favourites for tonight’s FA Cup fourth round replay.
Sunderland head to the Riverside in resurgent mood after six wins in 2012’s eight outings have propelled the Black Cats up to eighth in the Premier League table.
In stark contrast, hosts Middlesbrough are yet to secure a league victory in the calendar year and have a catalogue of injuries for tonight’s Tees-Wear derby, with Scott McDonald and Barry Robson ruled out, while Marvin Emnes and Faris Haroun are major injury doubts.
But, after Sunderland’s failure to reach the fifth round of the cup since 2004, O’Neill insists the tie remains on a knife-edge.
O’Neill said: “I would be really surprised if a Sunderland supporter took anything for granted, particularly after the kind of run we have had in recent years. That’s certainly not my attitude.
“We have a very difficult game that could go either way. It hangs in the balance.
“In fact, Boro are at home, so the advantage would probably go to them at the moment.
“They also have a few players coming back from injury and suspension – (former Sunderland midfielder Julio) Arca is available again and he is a good footballer.
“But we are playing with good heart and at least we are approaching the game in a good frame of mind.”
Boro more than deserved a share of the spoils when the teams met 10 days ago after Fraizer Campbell spared Sunderland’s blushes with a second half equaliser.
And O’Neill expects an equally combative encounter tonight, with the winners facing a fifth round tie at home to Arsenal.
O’Neill said: “It was a physical game at the Stadium of Light and I can’t say I was particularly expecting that.
“But in terms of the game itself and the atmosphere, none of those things surprised me.
“I think the full house will help the atmosphere once again and it’s important we go there and try to enjoy it as best we can.
“In an ideal world, we would have loved to have won the game at the first time of asking.
“Of course, I would rather not have extra-time and penalties if possible, but if you could guarantee me winning the match if it goes all the way, I would take that.
“You win a few games and that gives you confidence, that confidence breeds self-belief and so it goes on.
“The most important thing, though, is that you carry on winning.”