Smiles better at Sunderland

27 February 2014 01:16

Gus Poyet has challenged his Sunderland players to make themselves the happiest in England after leading them from rock bottom.

The 46-year-old Uruguayan has his heart set on completing a remarkable journey when he sends his team into battle with Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday with a first major trophy in 41 years up for grabs.

It is a scenario he freely admits he could never have imagined on October 8 last year when he succeeded Paolo Di Canio at the helm with the Black Cats in disarray.

Asked what his emotions will be as he leads his players out below the famous arch, Poyet said: "It's going to be special, firstly because I was not expecting this in my first season here, and secondly because everything was very, very dark and sad when we got here.

"Now we are 90 minutes away - or 120 - from being the happiest people in England.

"To be there, you need to have done something previously, and I think we deserve to be there for what we have done in the cup.

"Forget about the rest, in the cup especially, we have been a team that was difficult to play against and we have beaten top teams to have a chance to be in the final."

Sunderland had collected just a single Barclays Premier League point from their opening seven games when Poyet first walked on to the training pitch at the Academy of Light, and dreams of cup glory could hardly have been further from the new head coach's mind.

He said: "If in my press conference you had asked me about the cup, I would have said, 'Oh come on, stop it, I'm not talking about the cup. There is only one thing to talk about and that is the Barclays Premier League'.

"But now we are here and now it's the opposite. Now if you asked every manager in England if they would like to be where we are, they would say to you, 'yes' because you have got a chance to win something.

"We need to make sure that we do everything possible to take this opportunity. That's the only thing I can ask of my players, everything possible.

"I want to have a feeling on Sunday morning that everything was done to the best of our ability to go and play the game."

The Black Cats remain firmly entrenched in a battle for top-flight survival, but it's one they can forget for a few days at least as they concentrate on the task of upsetting the odds which will be heavily stacked against them.

To do so, they will have to get the better of a City side packed with world stars.

However, with the likes of John O'Shea and Wes Brown, who became accustomed to winning trophies at former club Manchester United, and Sebastian Larsson, Craig Gardner and Ki Sung-yueng, League Cup winners in the recent past, among the red and white ranks, Poyet at least has some old heads at his disposal.

The South American, of course, took part in many big games during his own playing career, and while he admits there could be some nerves, he is sure they will be forgotten as soon as the first whistle sounds.

He said: "Me, I was the type of player that normally, before the games, was not too nervous. I was terrible after the games, terrible.

"Winning or losing, I kept playing the game, kept kicking people in bed the night after.

"But I remember the FA Cup with Chelsea. When you walk into Wembley and the fans, every single one for and against, are shouting and making an incredible noise, you feel the nerves.

"But as soon as the ball starts rolling and you make the first few passes, normally you play the game. You close out the surroundings and you just play the game. That was me, anyway."

Source: PA