FA Cup joy for Sunderland would be Euro nightmare for Newcastle
12:23 GMT, 27 March 2012
It goes without saying that Newcastle United supporters would prefer Sunderland not to progress in the FA Cup this evening.
Traditional rivalry, and Football Law, dictates that cup demises and relegation are to be wished upon your rivals at the start of every season, and of course Tyne and Wear sides are no different.
But this year, indeed tonight, there is far more at stake. Europe is on the line.
Up for the cup: Sunderland will have a trip to Wembley to look forward to if they beat Everton at the Stadium of Light
There are several permutations involving league places, cup winners and even bookings (Swansea are due to qualify via the fair play criteria) which will decide who will represent the Barclays Premier League in Europe next season.
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Top four of course go into the Champions League. Although even that gets a little extra-complicated if Chelsea win this year’s competition and finish fifth as England would still only be permitted four entrants. It means Arsenal or Spurs could finish fourth and still not qualify for UEFA’s big one.
So it would be the little brother for them, joining League Cup winners Liverpool who may be having their league difficulties – which Newcastle will hope to exacerbate on Sunday – but Kenny Dalglish’s side, who await the winner of tonight’s FA Cup quarter-final replay at the Stadium of Light, have already got their Europa League place. A place is reserved for the FA Cup winners too (or in Sunderland’s case the finalists).
And here’s where it might get very interesting…
Newcastle could go 11 points clear of Liverpool if they beat them at home this weekend. A victory over their former manager Dalglish would surely just about guarantee sixth place at least for Newcastle and their supporters who became rather familiar with European competition under their previous managers, including Dalglish.
On target: Newcastle have a European finish in their sights this season
Although the current boss Alan Pardew may have written off his team’s Champions League credentials at the weekend, they are looking a very good bet for the Europa League. Or are they Sunderland may be 10 points behind their local rivals, but they could pip them to the final place.
Now Sunderland only have the small matter of victories over the two Merseyside teams to overcome to clinch a place against Chelsea or Tottenham for the May 5 final (same date as their last triumph in 1973 coincidentally).
But if they do reach the FA Cup Final, they will return to Europe for the first time since Bobby Kerr lifted the trophy too. And that means it is Newcastle who could miss out.
As Sunderland have never managed to win against Everton with David Moyes in charge, and in fact have to go back to the Peter Reid era for their last victory over them, they are hardly guaranteed progress to the semi-finals just because they have managed to bring the tie back to Wearside.
O’Neill was being ultra-cautious when he met the media yesterday and he knows that the incentive of a Mersey derby at Wembley, with all that’s at stake, and all the history and memories that will evoke, will be a major motivational force for Moyes and his player tonight. The 6,000 travelling Blues fans will also add to a cracking atmosphere.
Future's bright: Alan Pardew has assembled an exciting team
'I’m sure I don’t need to remind the supporters that Everton will be tough,' said the Sunderland boss.
'Our record isn’t great against them and we have to take that into consideration. We’ve just got to go for it and try to win the match. We might get beaten, but we’ll certainly go for it.'
Lee Cattermole is certain to return for the home side, which will be harsh on David Vaughan, Jack Colback or Craig Gardner, who one would expect to step down for the captain who is available after his four-match ban.
John O’Shea and Kieran Richardson are definitely out but Phil Bardsley and Seb Larsson come back into contention.
With more than 43,000 anticipated, and so much at stake for both clubs, it is geared up to be a fascinating contest and electrifying night. O’Neill is certainly looking forward to it.
'I think there’s something pretty special about it when you get to this stage of the competition,’ he said.
On the spot: O'Neill has had his side practising penalties in case their quarter-final replay against Everton goes the distance
'You can try and say it’s just another game, but I’m not so sure it is. It’s pretty special.
'I think you can get caught up in the atmosphere, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. We want to try and get through, the fans have been excited about it.
'If you had said to me back in December you’ll have 40 points at the end of the season I would have gladly taken it, so to have 40 points in March and to have a chance of reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup, is wonderful.'