FA Cup third round weekend is one of the most romantic on the football calender.
A League One team being drawn to play on a Premier League ground is what the competition is all about, no matter how dismissive Aston Villa’s curmudgeonly manager Paul Lambert is of it. The number of Tynesiders and Wearsiders in Carlisle United’s squad – which includes four former Black Cats – gives their trip to Sunderland an extra layer of fantasy.
But for Graham Kavanagh, another former player, winning can be measured in cold, hard cash.
Although goalkeeper Ben Amos has returned to Manchester United, Connor Townsend, Max Ehmer and Tom Lawrence all rejoined on loan yesterday, and all have been given permission to play tomorrow.
It is another reminder that Kavanagh, four months into the job of manager, is overhauling Carlisle’s squad. There are, though, limits.
“I can’t keep bringing players in,” admits a manager who is already into double figures this season.
A cup win at the start of the transfer window would make life a lot easier for the former Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Darlington midfielder who managed to upset one Sunderland manager in his time there, and now plans on doing it to Gustavo Poyet.
“I think a win is worth £67,000 and there are also the gate receipts so it would make a huge difference,” he acknowledges. “There is also the potential for a big game in the fourth round. We could add a few to the squad or pay a few debts, the opportunities are endless – but it is all pie in the sky unless we win.”
Against a team bottom of the Premier League with up to eight FA Cup debutants tomorrow, and who have avoiding relegation and a two-legged League Cup semi-final to distract them, that would be less a Cup shock, more a slight surprise.
“They will have one eye on the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final (at home to Manchester United on Tuesday),” Kavanagh admits. “We have been in pretty good form lately and there is a lot of energy around our players.
“Whoever we play against we have got to make it a proper cup tie. If there are a lot of foreign lads playing we have got to make them know they are in for a battle. I will let my players know they are going to have to put their foot in and compete.
“The referee will hopefully try to let an aggressive game go. I don’t mean people going over the top and dirty challenges but physical contact. We have found it difficult to play away from home this season on the poorer pitches – but this will be a better surface.
“It will be an intimidating atmosphere but we have 6,000 fans going and we have to give them something to be proud about.”
Even with Gustavo Poyet expected to rest a number of key players, man-for-man the hosts will have much the stronger side. Carlisle, though, may bridge the gap with their hunger.
“Sunderland are struggling a bit lately but even if they change things around the have high quality players,” Kavanagh warns.
“Adam Johnson might play and he was winning the league a few seasons ago. Our players have to stand up and show they are not overawed by the occasion. We have to respect the opposition but not fear them.
“They are a bigger club with so-called better players and we are the underdogs. We have to make the occasion as difficult for them as we can by quietening their fans for as long as we can. I am sure our keeper (Greg Fleming) is going to have to have a good game.
“If I was playing on Sunday as a so-called second string player, I’d be doing all I could to stake my claim.”
Returning to the Stadium of Light will bring back memories for Kavanagh, who played there at the start of Roy Keane’s management.
“It wasn’t a big chunk of my playing career because I got injured after six months,” he points out. “It is nice whenever I go back, the warmth I get from the groundstaff all the way up to the chief executive is incredible.
“The fans are fantastic and only ask for hard work and a successful team. Keane was the main reason I joined.
“I had an opportunity to sign for Leeds, which is a huge club, but I was a big fan of Roy’s – until he dropped me!
“I was never the same player after my knee injury, which was a frustration. I didn’t admit it at the time because I knew I had two or three years left in the game at a lower level.
“It caused one or two moments with Roy. We had a few heated discussions over his desk, but he wished me all the best when I came to Carlisle and again when I got the coaching job.”
With former Sunderland player Paul Thirlwell out with a calf strain, Sean O’Hanlon‘s knee will be put through a fitness test today.
Queens Park Rangers have reserved the right to ask Carlisle not to cup-tie Ehmer – as they did in the first two rounds – after today’s trip to Everton.