GUS POYET thinks a Wembley dream has provided a lovely distraction during Sunderland's Premier League nightmare as Manchester United aim to boost their own stuttering campaign on Wearside tonight.
A fifth home defeat in their last six matches was enough to knock United out of the FA Cup on Sunday when they lost to Swansea City at Old Trafford.
The defeat, a couple of hours after Sunderland had progressed to round four with a comfortable 3-1 win over Carlisle United, increased the pressure on David Moyes during his transitional first season in charge.
That could get worse for the former Everton boss tonight if Sunderland can put one foot in the final of the Capital One Cup by gaining the upperhand in the first leg of the semi-final at the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats would dearly love to stun the Premier League champions to help ease the frustrations of their own campaign ahead of this Saturday’s trip to Fulham.
Sunderland are rooted to the foot of the top-flight table and relegation looks increasingly likely after a failure to build on tiny steps of progress after a few positive results under Poyet.
But Poyet is keen for everyone connected with the North-East club to put Premier League troubles to one side in the hope of edging towards a first League Cup final since 1985.
“It is Man United and we know how difficult it will be,” said Poyet, aware of Sunderland’s last major trophy success was the FA Cup success in 1973. “This is the nicest part of the season because the rest has been a nightmare, so let’s try and enjoy it and achieve something.”
He added: “It’s important players embrace the occasion, but I think it’s going to be easy for them to do that on Tuesday night because of the opposition.
“For some reason, there will not be the same tension and that will be the same with the fans. When you are playing Man U they go ‘come on!’ “I tell you - I played for many, many years and after I lost my first final I thought I would maybe not get another opportunity. I was lucky to get there, but sometimes you only get one opportunity and you have to take it.”
After defeating both Swansea and Chelsea in previous rounds to reach the semi-final, Sunderland have performed better away from the Premier League.
Such performances raise the possibility of reaching Wembley and Poyet said: “Why is there a difference between our league form and the cup games? Ask me after this game.
“We will have a better idea after that. Me, I played for a Chelsea team that won cups, but we never won the league. That doesn’t mean we weren’t playing the same way or trying the same. We were a cup team.
“It is very difficult to win the league, but something was missing. Consistency. That is definitely one of the things missing here, without a doubt. We won a few times in the cup and then, the next game, when everybody expects us to win, something happens.”
While Poyet, whose team sits four points shy of safety in the Premier League, clearly has huge worries going forward to address, he also knows the burden weighing heavily on Moyes’ shoulders ahead of tonight’s tie.
The Red Devils are 11 points adrift of leaders Arsenal in the title race and suffered the frustration of being dumped out of the FA Cup at the first attempt on Sunday in front of their own fans against Swansea.
Poyet, a beaten League Cup finalist with Tottenham in 2002, said: “Mine are not the worldwide problems that Manchester United have. Theirs are a little bigger and a little bit posher, but I can tell you that the problems are the same.
“It’s about winning football games, trying to find the solutions when you don’t like what you see, trying to sort it out, looking for a few players that can help you. More or less, they are the same problems, just on a different scale.
“I understand the mentality; the expectations of the club and the people. Anybody who walked into Manchester United, you are expected to win every game and win the league, as if it’s that simple when it’s not.
“I understand why he took the job. It’s a nice feeling when you become the manager of a top team like Manchester United, but I’m sure now, when he’s having a few problems, he’s not enjoying it a lot.”
After making six changes to the Sunderland team that overcame Carlisle, Poyet is likely to field his strongest team tonight. John O’Shea returns from injury and is expected to start alongside Wes Brown at the heart of the defence.
Midfielder Lee Cattermole comes back in to the manager’s thinking after he was rested for the visit of Carlisle following his error in the New Year’s Day defeat to Aston Villa.
Poyet, who can call on new left-back Marcos Alonso for the first time after receiving clearance, said: “Lee won’t be bothered about what happened last week, and I’m not worried about playing him because of that, not for one second.”
* Sunderland supporters are being advised to arrive early ahead of tonight’s Capital One Cup semi-final.
Cash turnstiles will be in operation for home supporters with numbers 35, 36, 50, 51, 61 and 62 open from 6.15pm. Admission prices remain at £20 and £5 for concessions.
Sunderland: Mannone; Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Alonso; Cattermole; Giaccherini, Ki, Larsson, Johnson; Fletcher Manchester United: De Gea; Smalling, Evans, Vidic, Evra; Carrick, Giggs; Valencia, Rooney, Januzaj; Welbeck