WINNING League Cup games is becoming Sunderland’s forte, it seems.
The victory over Birmingham on Wednesday brought with it lots of reminders about our cup exploits from last season. Not just the Wembley trip either. How often do we forget that the Black Cats were 12 minutes from a second round exit at the hands of this year’s current big story, MK Dons?
At the time, many were hailing the summer fitness routines introduced by Paolo Di Canio as the reason for the remarkable late surge that guided the side through the tie.
Despite the Italian’s obvious shortcomings, it’s very probable that this was the case.
There’s also the idea that the players feared the gaffer’s wrath as they desperately scrambled their way home. Unfortunately, such motivational techniques aren’t sustainable in the modern game.
It’s all very conflicting to what we witnessed in the next round against Peterborough. When Kevin Ball’s men took to the field, there was a freedom and enjoyment to their play. When Emanuele Giaccherini opened the scoring, the manner in how the players collectively celebrated told you everything you needed to know. There was almost an explosion of relief around the stadium.
We then had Poyet use the Southampton game as the test drive for his new footballing philosophy and we never looked back in the competition. Well, you know the rest.
It was a very relevant tournament for Sunderland last time around.
This week’s victory at Birmingham didn’t have the iconic moments or the stories that will be remembered in years to come, but the simplicity of it feels just as rewarding. Winning games without complication is what everybody wants in an ideal world.
Liam Bridcutt needed to play: he’s an injury or suspension to Lee Cattermole away from playing in the same role in Premier League games. Ditto for Jordi Gomez 10 yards ahead of him where Seb Larsson and Jack Rodwell currently roam.
The performance may not have been pretty before the late flurry of goals, but there’s something very satisfying about grabbing an routined or expected victory.
There’s certainly something satisfying about progressing, because we could take our chances when it mattered; that the gulf in class between the two sides showed through in the end.
Because too many times Sunderland don’t do things routinely. There’s a time in the not too distant past when you’d have had your mortgage on the lads being one of the top division sides sent tumbling out at the first hurdle when up against lower-league opposition. I’m not sure that presumption stands at present.
It’s something that needs to carry over to Loftus Road tomorrow. With the West London side losing all three games thus far, a game against Sunderland is ordinarily what the doctor would order for them.
There have been countless occasions over the years when a match-up with the lads reveals itself as the fixture of respite for struggling sides – or the game for strikers to break their duck. Typical Sunderland we typically say. Ade Akinbiyi, anyone?
Yet Saturday should be a game to relish, not fear.
The home side are evidently struggling to adapt to a new formation and system, with new players, in a new division.
If Gus can continue to buck the many familiar and damning trends we’ve developed over the years, then people really can start to be hopeful. There have been clear signs of resolution in each of Sunderland’s three games this season, and it’s not unrealistic to think we’d have found a way to lose the lot last year.
Gus Poyet keeps giving reason to believe that we can be something better than perennial strugglers.
London’s calling, let’s upgrade those league draws to a win tomorrow.
* The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from Gus Poyet. You can be stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.