Pressure drop is Gus Poyet's objective in battle of minds

Sunderland boss wants his Sunderland team to believe - and channel the enthusiasm of the supporters

Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet ahead of the Capital One Cup final at Wembley against Manchester City
Sunderland head coach Gus Poyet ahead of the Capital One Cup final at Wembley against Manchester City

The short walk from the Wembley dressing room to the centre circle should take no more than 180 seconds, but it is the part of the Capital One Cup final experience that fills Gus Poyet with most anxiety.

For Poyet, who will stride out with pride, the couple of hundred metres that drag his players out of their red-and-white sanctuary are the only part of the day that he feels unable to control. On a day when Sunderland will be hoping to grasp every little advantage, it might well matter.

“I’m expecting us to be tense, at least for the first five and ten minutes,” he reflected.

“I want to try and control that in the dressing room before we go out, but I can’t control that walk when they are standing there in front of the fans. We need to make sure we do the basics in the first few minutes and make sure we are a little bit more brave than we were against Arsenal last week.

“From there, we play the game, we relax. If people cannot relax, we will change it sooner rather than later. They (City) have so much quality and experience, the only thing that can affect them is they lost the FA Cup Final last season.

“I’m sure they will not go there thinking they are going to win it. They are going to be alright on the ball, they are going to be fit because they are top, top players.

“If I concentrate too much on them, we are going to do nothing. We have to make sure we are spot-on, we have to make sure we are right to play, how we are going to attack and how we are going to control the game. I’m responsible for that and that is the best responsibility.”

If there is one thing that Sunderland supporters can take for granted on Sunday, it is that the team will be well-drilled, thoroughly prepared and constructed smartly enough to give the Cats every possible opportunity to upset the odds.

It is the mental battle that is less certain. Will Manchester City feel the psychological impact of losing to Wigan Athletic last season? Will Sunderland’s sense of occasion give them some kind of edge?

Poyet will use the positivity of the supporters that he has encountered as a force for good. Their belief, confidence and buoyancy should convince them that this is no red-and-white mission impossible.

“I notice, especially in the young ones, they are going to be there and they are flying,” he said.

“They are so excited. It’s almost like they haven’t thought about who we are playing. They are just thinking about what they are going to do if we win the cup, which is good. It’s a feeling, sometimes when you are inside the football club, that you don’t realise.

“The players need to feel that, it’s important to have the feeling of the fans. Our side of the ground is going to be packed and it’s going to be incredible. The biggest challenge for me is to give them something to celebrate.”

There is no attempt to play mind games when Poyet suggests that a Manchester City team that recently gave Barcelona a run for its money should be overwhelming favourites. He is certain that they will need to perform right at their best to have any chance.

He said: “I’m being totally honest – I think everybody will be expecting Man City to win the game. And it’s not putting pressure on them, come on.

“I don’t want to be playing any mind games. It’s just checking what they do, where they are in the league, where we are and the names they’ve got. I’m sure that they’ll try to make sure they perform as well.

“I said before, at the highest level, both teams, they are better than us. So we need to hope that we are at the highest level and they are a little bit under, or a few of them at least. Then we’ll have a better chance. Or we need to be the best group you’ve ever seen on a football pitch, in terms of everything we do, we do it together, the understanding of what we do, when we pass the ball, when we defend, when we attack – everything has to be spot-on as a group. Be a better group, be a better XI on the pitch, then you’ve got a chance.

“That is something important because of the difference between the two squads.”

Part of Poyet’s preparation has been to show his team two DVDs this week – one of the second half against Swansea that was quickly followed by the first half of the Manchester City game. It was intended to illustrate that this team can beat anyone on its day.

Reflecting on an inauspicious first week, he said: “It was half of the team in my first training session because it was an international break. We planned a training session that didn’t work very well. You start asking yourself questions. Of course, there was always that thought of ‘ok, let’s wait until everybody comes back’. If you remember my first game it was a very entertaining second half. But it’s incredible.

“One of the options we had this week was to show that second half to the players. And then to show the second-half of the Manchester City home game.

“Two weeks’ difference from each other. Four goals down, no goals conceded. It was already something extra in the group. The group, together, playing for something. Then we got better.

“Now we’ve got an opportunity to show the world because this game, as you know, is going everywhere. That’s what I want to see.

“I would be proud seeing my team on the pitch doing the right things and then if City are unbelievable or if Yaya Toure is the best player on the pitch or (Sergio) Aguero is unstoppable – I mean, they can go past the best players in the world so why aren’t they going to go past us – but if we are spot-on in what we do then that would make me very proud.”


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