Malcolm Crosby has criticised the North East clubs for losing sight of the importance of cup football to their supporters.
Next week Sunderland play in their first major cup final since Crosby led them to Wembley in the 1992 FA Cup. Newcastle United have not played in a Wembley final since 1999, while it is ten years this month since Middlesbrough played in a showpiece game.
Crosby, who was on Middlesbrough’s coach staff from 2004-2009, thinks poor attitudes have been partly to blame for that.
“When you look at it, Millwall have been to the (FA Cup) final, as have Cardiff and Portsmouth,” Crosby pointed out. “Teams have done it. I’m surprised Newcastle or Sunderland haven’t won anything for as long as they have.
“Even at Middlesbrough, with Gareth (Southgate), we were in a great position to beat Cardiff (in the 2008 quarter-finals) but blew it. I am surprised that the North East teams in general haven’t won anything, and some of their results in the cup competitions have been really poor.”
Sunderland’s last cup win was in 1973, while Newcastle have not lifted a domestic trophy since 1955.
The Black Cats have been rewarded for taking the cups seriously this season. They are still in the FA Cup, where they will meet Hull City or Brighton and Hove Albion in the quarter-finals, and a week on Sunday they play Manchester City in the League Cup final. But Newcastle and Middlesbrough went out of the FA Cup at the earliest possible opportunity.
The Magpies in particular were criticised for fielding a weakened side at home to Cardiff City, and were punished with a 2-1 defeat.
“Every game is important to the fans,” said Crosby, now a scout at Birmingham City. “I know we have rotation now, but I don’t get playing weakened teams in the cups. The teams are the lower levels now are well organised, they’re always fairly fit and some of them are decent players. You can’t afford to take them too lightly.
“I would always put out the best team I could, then if I’m winning 3-0 or 4-0, I can always bring two or three players off.
“Sometimes, I don’t think they see that and they end up losing and they’re out of the cup. As a manager, you get hammered.
“I remember doing that playing with Gareth against Notts County in the League Cup. We made five changes and lost 2-1 at home. We had numerous chances, but it didn’t matter, we’ve lost.”
Crosby was speaking at a Press day to publicise Northern Premier League Darlington’s return to their home town next season. They will groundshare with the town’s rugby union club. When the Quakers reformed after financial problems, they were forced to leave their Neasham Road home and share with Bishop Auckland.
Crosby, who was caretaker manager for much of Sunderland’s 1992 cup run until being given the job permanently in the build-up to the final, admitted squad rotation was not an option open to the then-Second Division Rokerites.
“We didn’t have that many injuries, so we were fortunate I didn’t have to change the team that much,” he recalled. “Don Goodman used to play in the league, but he was cup-tied so I used to have to bring Peter Davenport in. But he always did well in the cup games.
“I lost John Kay and he couldn’t play in the final, but other than that, I didn’t really have any major changes to make.”
Meanwhile, striker Steven Fletcher is due back in training today, and expected to be fit for the final.
The Scotland international has been struggling with an Achilles problem for some time.
“He will start today with us,” Poyet revealed. “Then, depending on how he feels, we can either accelerate him for Arsenal or make sure he is right for the final.
“I don’t know Achilles injuries, but for people I have known, they are always worried about feeling something, so we’ll have to see how he is.
“Perfection would be for him to play against Arsenal. I would like to have him for then, even if it’s on the bench.
“That would be a great situation for him to feel part of the group again and playing. If not, I would like to think he will be all right for the final.”