GUSTAVO POYET accepts that Sunderland's fixture congestion has worsened after last night's game at Manchester City was postponed an hour before kick off, but the
boss feels Greater Manchester Police made the only decision that was available to them.
With winds of up to 90mph buffeting the Etihad Stadium, and a number of roads around the ground closed to traffic, the police demanded that the game did not take place because “the safety of those in, around and travelling to the stadium complex could not be guaranteed”.
Sunderland's progress in both cup competitions meant they were already facing a packed fixture schedule in the final three months of the season, and the situation has become more acute as a result of last night's postponement.
A rearranged date will be announced in due course, although it is unlikely to be before the final month of the season given Manchester City's involvement in the Champions League and UEFA's demand for no top-flight clashes with their premier competition.
However, having witnessed conditions deteriorate markedly as Sunderland's coach crawled towards the ground, Poyet has defended the decision to call things off.
“The fixture position is the difficult part,” said the Sunderland boss. “We will have a lot of fixtures to play in a shorter amount of time now, because of our success in the cups.
“It will be difficult for us, and I can't imagine what it will be like for Manchester City, who are still in the Champions League and the FA Cup.
“We came across on Tuesday and prepared as normal. We had a meeting (yesterday morning) and set off for the game as usual. But it was very difficult to get to the ground.
“A journey that would normally take about 25 minutes took more than 40. It's true that we saw a few incidents outside, there were a few panels coming down towards our bus.
“Of course we were ready to play, and we wanted to play. But we have nothing to complain about. You don't know what is going to happen, but we need to be honest. It was a strong decision by the police, and we have to agree with that.”
The late postponement will have frustrated the 1,000-or-so travelling supporters who were due to attend last night's game, although very few had made it to the ground because of serious problems on the M62.
A lorry blew over and blocked the westbound carriageway at around 4pm, forcing a total closure of the motorway for the best part of an hour. One lane was eventually reopened, but many Sunderland supporters were still between Leeds and Huddersfield when the decision to postpone the game was confirmed.
With Manchester Euston station closed and the West coast mainline shutting down completely for more than two hours, the police called an emergency meeting with Manchester City's safety officer at around 6.30pm.
The weather forecast predicted that things would not improve for at least another three or four hours, and while the Etihad Stadium pitch was perfectly playable, the joint decision was surely a sensible one.
A Manchester City statement said: “This evening's fixture versus Sunderland has been postponed due to exceptional and escalating weather conditions.
“The safety of those in, around and travelling to the stadium complex cannot be guaranteed. This decision has been made by the safety officer and Greater Manchester Police. Both managers and the match officials understand and support this decision.”
One result of last night's postponement is that Wes Brown will now miss the Premier League trip to Arsenal as well as Saturday's FA Cup fifth-round tie with Southampton as he serves the two-match ban imposed in the wake of his dismissal against Hull. However, the centre-half will still be available for the Capital One Cup final against Manchester City.
Poyet had been planning to make a number of changes for Saturday's cup tie, and while his players' lack of action last night might have prompted a rethink, the Uruguayan has decided to stick with his initial plan of giving some of his fringe players a run out against Southampton.
As a result, the likes of Ondrej Celustka, Craig Gardner, Emanuele Giaccherini and Ignacio Scocco are likely to be involved against the Saints.
“I was looking forward to giving a few players opportunities, and that will not change,” said Poyet. “We have a few players who need to play and deserve to play. For different reasons, they haven't been able to.
“I'm talking about players like Giaccherini and Scocco. They both need minutes, so we're going to use that game for this. But it will all be first-team players, we will not be taking the game lightly. I hope that we win it so we don't have to play a replay.”
Last night's big decision revolved around how to get the Sunderland squad back to Wearside in order to ensure that today's training schedule is not disrupted.
“We have a decision to make now, and we're not sure what to do,” said Poyet, at around 7pm. “There are two options – either we stay close by, have dinner and relax for a while until the roads clear up, then go back or we can get on the bus straight away and take it slowly. I'm going to see what the players want to do.”