GUSTAVO POYET is ready to tell his players to play “cup football” every week after watching his relegation threatened Sunderland team take a significant step towards a second Wembley appearance.
While the Black Cats struggle to climb away from the Premier League's drop zone ahead of this Saturday's daunting trip to Arsenal, Poyet's players just can't stop winning in the cups.
And having already sealed a Capital One Cup final spot on March 2 in sensational fashion last month at Old Trafford, Sunderland secured a FA Cup quarter-final berth by defeating Southampton on Saturday.
Loading article content
Not even Poyet's decision to make nine changes to the team which he named for the last Premier League fixture prevented another cup triumph, courtesy of Craig Gardner's 49th minute thunderbolt.
The Sunderland boss even used the occasion to tinker with his system by naming Fabio Borini in a two-pronged forward line along with Argentine debutant Ignacio Scocco, signed in January from Internacional.
Poyet, whose side lost 2-0 at home to Hull City a week earlier, just needs to find a way of weaving the cup magic every week in the top-flight to erase the ongoing threat of playing Championship football next season.
“I think there are lessons to learn,” said Poyet, who also stated he would rather keep Sunderland in the Premier League than celebrate a rare cup final win.
“Sometimes there is a mentality where we are still thinking that there is time in the league, but there is not.
“In the cup, you play a game and, although you can have a replay, you play as if that is it, that it’s going to finish today.
“We have to play like 'today, this is it', otherwise we can go down. We need to put that in the mind of the players and make them crazy and whatever happens happens. I don’t know for sure, but that’s an option. Maybe we will put two strikers up there like here and play different.”
Adopting the two striker approach would appeal to Borini. The Italian, on loan from Liverpool, was lively again in a red and white shirt but he has rarely had the opportunity to play in his preferred central attacking role.
Poyet genuinely feels, though, that Sunderland's cup heroics are not purely down to his tactical decisions.
He said: “It’s incredible in the cup, I cannot explain it. It’s scary why we win every cup game and then in the league we don’t. Is it because there’s no pressure? That’s an option.
“I thought we were technically very good against Southampton, which we haven’t seen in home games in the league. We were more tense in those. Maybe it is nerves. It is up to the players.”
Sunderland's progress in to the last-eight of the FA Cup is yet another dramatic twist during a campaign which has already seen them overcome Newcastle United twice, go through the Paolo Di Canio furore as well as reach Wembley.
Yet Sunderland still sit deep in relegation trouble, third from bottom in the Premier League, with just 13 league games remaining.
Poyet said: “I would like to book my holidays. If we go down I’m going to hide somewhere in the middle of Asia. If we stay up, you will see me in every single paper on the beach somewhere famous.”
Having taken plenty of positives from the team he fielded against Southampton, Poyet could now mix up his selections in the top-flight, starting with the trip to Arsenal this Saturday.
As well as Borini's more advanced role, there were encouraging displays from Emanuele Giaccherini on the left, Gardner through the middle and new signing Santiago Vergini at centre-back alongside John O'Shea.
Poyet said: “We can have the extra game and we need to look at so many things every time we play so we will need a group, every single player.
“There is going to be one game this season when we are going to make a decision to change this or that or to play him or him. That might be Giaccherini, Andrea Dossena or Craig Gardner … that player could be the key to us staying up.
“They’ve had good games here and have shown me that they’re ready. It’s time to wake up and we have to start delivering in the league as well as in the cups.”