The postponement of last night’s match at Eastland caused a few Sunderland rethinks, but Gustavo Poyet’s plans for Saturday remain unchanged.
The Black Cats entertain Southampton at the weekend in the last 16 of the FA Cup. After a third game in eight days, coach Poyet might have been tempted to freshen up a squad which is facing an increasingly busy end to the season. Even with 90 minutes’ less workload to consider, Poyet will still rotate his squad for Saturday’s Cup tie.
Players such as Ignacio Scocco, Emanuele Giaccherini, Ondrejs Celustka, Oscar Ustari, Lee Cattermole, Craig Gardner and Andrea Dossena could all start the Stadium of Light game as Poyet looks to keep his players sharp ahead of the League Cup final on March 2. They also have 13 Premier League matches remaining, plus whatever is left of their FA Cup run.
“I was looking forward to giving a few players opportunities, and that will not change,” said Poyet after last night’s game was postponed on police advice with the weather causing chaos on the roads. “We have a few players who need to play and deserve to play. For different reasons, they haven’t been able to.
“I’m talking about players like Giaccherini and Scocco.
“They both need minutes, so we’re going to use that game (against Southampton) for this. But it will all be first-team players, we will not be taking the game lightly. I hope that we win it so we don’t have to play a replay.”
A replay would be a nightmare for Poyet. Sunderland already have games against West Bromwich Albion and City to rearrange, and their televised March 10 meeting with Liverpool will have to be moved if either side makes it into the FA Cup quarter-finals. Uefa’s ludicrous ruling that Premier League games cannot be played on the same night as any of their competitions only makesthe equation that much morecomplicated.
Scocco is yet to make it on to the pitch for the Black Cats since his arrival from Brazilian club Internacional in the last week of January. The timing of the Brazilian season means the Argentina forward has not played competitive football since mid-November.
With Jozy Altidore and Steven Fletcher, who is struggling with an Achilles problem, both badly out of touch in front of goal, Poyet could do with the option of a sharp Scocco. Poyet also needs enough evidence to decide whether Scocco’s loan should be made permanent at the end of the season and with his side in the relegation zone, there will be few “meaningless” games between now and the end of the season.
Central defender Santiago Vergini was already due a run in the side as a result of Wes Brown’s red card against Hull City. Injury permitting, he will play against Southampton, and at Arsenal on February 22.
The deadline-day arrival of holding midfielder Liam Bridcutt from Brighton and Hove Albion means Cattermole is unlikely to be much more than a bit-part player in the remainder of the season. But an early-season cameo from the bench means Bridcutt is suspended for the League Cup final against Manchester City, and the former Middlesbrough midfielder is likely to be asked to deputise.
Giaccherini has been a victim of Poyet’s preferred 4-1-4-1 formation. The Italy international made his name as a No 10, a position his club do not use.
He has been able to force his way into the side anywhere in the four-man midfield. With a World Cup in Brazil to play for, he needs the chance to state his case for inclusion.
Last night the big decision for Poyet was when to head home from a soaking and windswept Eastlands.
“We have a decision to make now, and we’re not sure what to do,” he admitted shortly before the game had been due to start.
“Either we stay close by, have dinner and relax for a while until the roads clear up, then go back or we can get on the bus straight away and take it slowly. I’m going to see what the players want to do.”
An FA Cup replay against Southampton would be on Tuesday, February 25, five days before the League Cup final.
Manchester City, who had the chance to return to the top of the table last night, also face a fixture pile-up. They are still in the Champions League and the FA Cup, although with their next ties against Barcelona and Chelsea, that could change in the coming weeks.