SUNDERLAND’S FA Cup tie against Blackburn Rovers tomorrow will be a holding operation for all concerned as the Black Cats try to get through what they hope will be the last game before defensive reinforcements arrive.
And having built his game around allowing his team-mates to prosper, Teemu Tainio is hoping they repay the favour by keeping the club in the competition while he serves a one-match suspension.
Manager Ricky Sbragia has a list of five defensive targets, believed to include Fiorentina’s Manuel da Costa and Hearts captain Christophe Berra, but none are likely to sign before this weekend’s fourth round match.
Tainio is banned for it, having picked up five cautions this season. But despite having tasted all his success in knockout competitions, the 29-year-old Finnish international is yet to win the FA Cup, something he wishes he could put right this weekend.
“It’s a big competition and everybody in Finland follows it very much,” said the former Tottenham Hotspur player. “It’s nice to play in it.
“All the trophies I have won have been in cup competitions, so why not the FA Cup?
“But it’s going to be hard because Blackburn are a good team who beat us in the Carling Cup. This is the fourth time we have played Blackburn this season. We need to win and get one over on them.”
The Wearsiders’ record against Blackburn this season is won one, lost one, drawn one. Saturday’s will be their fourth meeting in just over two months.
Having endured an injury-hit start to life at the Stadium of
Light, Tainio has played in eight of the last nine matches. He enjoys sitting in front of the back four and allowing his fellow midfielders to attack, but admits they probably should make more of it.
“That’s where I want to play, mainly sat in front of the defence,” he said. “I still want to get a little bit involved as well, but I’m happy to let the other midfielders score the goals.
“It took me a few games to get match-fit after missing so many games and to get to know the other players. You could say it feels a little bit like the start of my Sunderland career now. I had a few injuries at the beginning of the season, I came back and wasn’t playing but I was working hard and now it seems to be paying off.”
Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cissé have scored eight of Sunderland’s 12 goals under Sbragia. While Tainio is delighted with a duo whose combined tally this season is 16, he would like more contributions from elsewhere.
“They’ve scored a lot of goals, and that’s what strikers are paid for,” he commented. “It’s been lucky for us recently that they’ve both been fit. Hopefully they can keep scoring. Maybe scoring more goals from other areas of the pitch is an area we can look to improve. We need to score more from set pieces, like we did against Aston Villa, and from midfield.
“We can’t just rely on the strikers to score, but we are happy for them that they are doing well.”
Portuguese defender da Costa’s agent says the Black Cats have been in touch about a possible move for the 22-year-old.
“I have spoken with Sunderland about Manuel, but there is nothing concrete at the moment,” said Frank Peslerbe.
“Sunderland are looking for a defender and have spoken about signing Manuel.
“Manuel would be interested in a move to Sunderland or any other team as he just wants to play.”
Da Costa has played just once since leaving PSV Eindhoven last summer and has made only 28 senior League appearances throughout his career, plus 22 Under-21 caps.
The French-born player chose PSV over Newcastle United when leaving Nancy in 2006.
A £3m move for Berra has also been mentioned, but Sbragia has denied any interest in Bolton Wanderers’ unsettled defender Danny Shittu.
Meanwhile, Eidur Gudjohnsen’s father and agent Arnor has dismissed reports linking the Barcelona midfielder to a reunion with Allardyce at Blackburn, who managed him at Bolton.
“He is not going anywhere, 100%,” he said. “I have not heard from Blackburn.”