Poyet set to relish cup semi-final
Gus Poyet has urged his Sunderland players to put a "nightmare" season to one side and relish the chance to reach the Capital One Cup final.
The Barclays Premier League's bottom club host faltering Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday evening in the first leg of their semi-final showdown.
United's visit to Wearside comes against the backdrop of an intensely difficult few months for the Uruguayan and his players, who have won only three league games all season, two fewer than they have managed in the domestic cup competitions.
However, while top-flight survival remains the overwhelming priority, Poyet insists the chance to claim a famous scalp and book a trip to Wembley is one which should excite his beleaguered troops.
The 46-year-old said: "It's the nice part, the nicest. It's nice to come here and talk about a semi-final and not talk about points and relegation.
"I would like to say it's the nicest part of the season because the rest has been a nightmare with the position in the table, so let's try to enjoy this one and go on and do something important for the club."
If Sunderland head into the game with major challenges ahead of them, their opponents are entrenched in the sort of crisis which has not visited Old Trafford for more than two decades.
Manager David Moyes finds himself in the firing line with his side currently trailing Premier League leaders Arsenal by 11 points and having been dumped out of the FA Cup in the third round by Swansea at the weekend.
The Swans became the fifth visiting side to win at Old Trafford to date this season with West Brom, Everton, Newcastle and Tottenham having previously done so.
However, Poyet insists the fear factor has not diminished.
He said: "No, I don't think so, no. Seriously, no, because it's not about being scared or not.
"I have got different experiences against Manchester United - with Chelsea, we were pretty good against them, and with Tottenham, we were not good enough, and I don't think we were more or less scared.
"I went on the pitch with the same attitude, just to do my job and help my team.
"But overall, they are normally better than you, so you need to make sure you are spot-on."
Manchester United manager Moyes is expected to recall a number of big names.
Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and David de Gea are all set to return after sitting out Sunday's shock FA Cup home defeat by Swansea.
Robin van Persie (thigh) and Phil Jones (knee) are unlikely to be involved. Marouane Fellaini (wrist), Ashley Young (shoulder) and Nani (hamstring) are definitely out, Fabio starts a three-match ban and Rio Ferdinand faces a spell on the sidelines after injuring his knee at the weekend.
And though United were without seven senior players and had substitute Fabio sent off just four minutes after his introduction in the second-half following an injury to Rio Ferdinand, Moyes did not try to defend the situation.
"No (not an excuse to have seven players out)," said Moyes.
"We have another big game in 48 hours time so we had to keep that in mind but there are no excuses.
"We had a very strong team out. Just about every player on the pitch was an international."
Ferdinand looks set for a spell on the sidelines after limping off with a knee problem, although Michael Carrick and, possibly, Rooney, will be fit for the Capital One Cup semi-final first-leg at Sunderland on Tuesday.
"You can definitely see we are lacking that little bit of confidence when we get into the final third at times," he said.
"We need to get back to winning ways and be hard to play against. Most importantly, we need to take something out of the good play we have had in games.
"It has been a tough start. I am disappointed we have not won more games but it will change I have no doubt about that.
"It shouldn't be that (United are reliant on likes of Rooney and Van Persie).
"My job is to find a way of winning. It doesn't matter what style you have to find a way of winning."