Gus Poyet has urged his Sunderland players to take a chance of a lifetime and help the club take a huge “step forward” by ending a 22-year wait for a major Cup final appearance.
The Black Cats head to Old Trafford tonight knowing avoiding a defeat against Manchester United will guarantee them a place in the club’s history – along with a Wembley date and a mouth-watering meeting with Manchester City.
The prospect of defending a single-goal advantage at Old Trafford would normally be a daunting one but David Moyes’ team are in free-fall, having lost three of their last four games and been knocked out of the Premier League title race and the FA Cup since the turn of the year. Poyet wants his team to pile the pressure on a Red Devils team which he believes “must win” this game.
Equally as important to Poyet, though, is the fact his players take the opportunity presented to them by their first-leg performance.
He said: “It is a step forward as a club – for the players, the individuals and the fans.
It will change things a little bit this difficult season, give something to them to celebrate and to have the option to win a trophy.
“We have put ourselves in a nice position and now we need to try and do our best to win it.
“From the beginning of the game it is easy for me – we are going to play to win the game, just like we play any other game.
“Now we know we are away and it is Manchester United and there are plenty of things which can happen. During the game, depending on the score, it is going to be a different approach from us because you need to manage the game depending on how it is going and then make decisions.
“The rules are new for me – I don’t remember playing in a competition where after 90 minutes away goals do not count but they do after 120 minutes and the only way to get to penalties is 2-1.
“We need to adapt to that as well. It is the same for David Moyes. We need to be aware of the situation constantly.”
Poyet made an exception to his normal caginess regarding team selection by confirming Adam Johnson will start.
He also confirmed Steven Fletcher is fit and in the right frame of mind to play. He added: “We need to score. If we go there thinking the only way to get through is getting a 0-0 we are wrong. We need to try to score and play the game and manage the game.
“It is different to a league game, for the first time if we win or draw we have a chance to get to the final. We are playing a very good team whatever their situation is.”
Despite claiming the game was “must win” for Manchester United, Poyet has sympathy with Moyes – whose role is under serious scrutiny after a less-than-impressive start.
He said: “David deserves credit because he took the most difficult job in the world. After Sir Alex Ferguson left it was always going to be the most difficult job in the world.
“It is a big change, it is not like when you change managers at any other club after one two or three years.”
Sunderland will be backed by a phenomenal 9,000 travelling support at Old Trafford – a ringing endorsement of the city’s desperation to make it to a Cup final.
Poyet added: “That just confirms things for me. It confirms how big football is for this city and these fans.
“I’m feeling that every day here and when you get to this stage they show you.
“It’s even more so after this difficult season – I used to say terrible but now it’s getting better – and they deserve something. We need to give them something to cheer about and this is a great opportunity to make them proud of the club and to give them something back.”
Wayne Rooney is set to return for Manchester United for the game but Robin van Persie – who has been a long-term absentee – is still struggling. Poyet admitted: “I cannot lie, it would be better for us if they don’t play.”