Martin O'Neill attacks 'ludicrous' planning

SUNDERLAND will ask the Premier League for help as they look to avoid having to play yet another game in December because of Uefa regulations.

Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill

SUNDERLAND will ask the Premier League for help as they look to avoid having to play yet another game in December because of Uefa regulations.

The Black Cats were due to entertain Reading on the second weekend of the season, only for the match to fall foul of the weather. Both clubs are keen to play the game soon, but may not be allowed to before December.

Sunderland only have two midweek matches before Christmas – the November 27 league visit of Queens Park Rangers and the October 30 League Cup fourth-round tie at Middlesbrough. Reading’s only two midweek games are also on those dates. But Uefa do not allow Premier League teams to play on nights set aside for Champions League or Europa League matches.

Football League clubs regularly play on such nights, damaging their attendances. However, Uefa are reluctant to have any top-flight distractions to their showpiece evenings of televised football. December is the busiest time of the English football calendar, when fatigue puts players most at risk of injury.

Sunderland are already scheduled to play ten matches between November 27 and January 12 – plus the potential of two further League Cup ties. It is the

same situation for the Royals, who are also in the League Cup.

“There was a conversation between the clubs and the Premier League about when the game could take place,” Sunderland manager Martin O’Neill confirmed. “They decided to wait to see if both of us had been knocked out (of the League Cup – both won).

“We couldn’t play in a European week. The only time then would be December for us, where there is only 57 games! It is absolutely extraordinarily, I must admit.

“I’m sure if the two clubs could get together we could organise it before December because to me that is almost insult to possible injury because of the number of games the players are playing.”

It is thought the rule has been circumvented in the past, and Sunderland will cite that precedent.

“It is really crazy,” added O’Neill. “December is the worst possible moment (for an extra game).

“It would be ludicrous for both clubs to play another fixture in December when we are overloaded. It would not be fair to the players. They are always talking to us about injuries to players.”

The rules would allow Sunderland and Reading to play on nights not devoted to European competition – chiefly Mondays and Fridays. Once commonplace at the end of seasons, playing so close to weekend fixtures is no longer considered a serious option as it would be even more dangerous to players’ health by reducing recovery time.

If both clubs were knocked out of the League Cup at the fourth round stage (Reading host Arsenal), the game could be rearranged for the week commencing December 10. Otherwise the next week would be a possibility.

That would mean a very long journey for Royals fans in the lead-up to Christmas. They are at Manchester City on December 22.

Uefa’s leverage over the Premier League fixture list comes from “solidarity payments” that trickle down from the Champions and Europa Leagues into domestic football.

The massive expansion of continental competition has severely restricted the Premier League’s room for manoeuvre in arranging matches.

When it began in 1992-93, the fledgling Champions League was played on 13 different matchdays, with Uefa Cup football taking up another 12. Now there are 21 days set aside for the former competition and 23 for the Europa League, which replaced the Uefa Cup.

KICK-OFF for the League Cup tie with Middlesbrough has been confirmed as 7.45pm.

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