Sunderland Can Draw Inspiration From Cup

As eyes turn to Gander Green Lane for the FA Cup's potential story of the season, Sunderland fans could be forgiven for having other things on their minds.

Sutton United's clash with Arsenal has drawn the world's media attention to the National League North side's training sessions this week, Oxford United put out Newcastle in round four and gave Middlesbrough the fright of their lives on Saturday, while Lincoln City became the first non league side since before the First World War to reach the quarter finals. Some of the corporate vultures that surround the game may have devalued the Cup in recent years, but we've seen this year that the magic of the world's oldest knockout competition is alive and well.

What about the magic of the League, though? A fairly strong Burnley side, given what most fans would consider a really good shot at the quarter finals with a home tie against Lincoln, found more resistance than they were expecting and saw themselves dumped out of the competition. This is the same Burnley side that picked us off effortlessly at their place, as we went down 4-1 on New Year's Eve. There's a lot of hidden variables in every game, of course, but did we really have that much less drive and ambition than Lincoln City?

Yes, we did, and that's no offence to the Imps. A team far behind their opponents in quality set out with a game plan to frustrate the Clarets and get the goal that they needed from a set piece. This was no smash and grab, for Burnley were unable to play their game and didn't create a lot of substantive chances. Obviously Lincoln had done their homework on a very average, by Premier League standards, Burnley, and they reaped their reward for it.

The next team to come to the Stadium of Light will be Manchester City, who put out a near full strength side at the John Smith's Stadium only to be held by Huddersfield on Saturday. This was no 90 minute defensive barricade, as the Terriers hassled their opponents throughout the game, created the better chances, and even had the ball in the net, only for Philip Billing's strike to be correctly ruled out. Sunderland have a lot to learn from the tenacity of sides lower down the footballing pyramid.

It's all very well to talk about the magic of the Cup, and Sunderland fans can be forgiven for reflecting ruefully on the fact that a win over Burnley in round three would have left Bristol City and Lincoln in the way of us having a place in the quarter finals. We have to focus on the here and now, though. There's three months left to save our season, and there's no excuse for not giving it all our effort as the season hits crunch time. If David Moyes has been keeping an eye on the FA Cup from his New York hotel, I hope he's been paying close attention.
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