Sunderland need new Cup heroes - O'Neill
Published 21:30 16/03/12 By Simon Bird
Martin O’Neill has ordered his Sunderland players to write a new history for the club - saying it is unbelievable they haven’t won anything since their famous FA Cup win of 1973.
The squad will have it drilled into them that opportunities like Saturday's lunchtime quarter-final at Everton - with a semi-final appearance at Wembley at stake - do not come along often, and need to be taken.
The Black Cats have striker Nicklas Bendtner fit a week after he was carried off the pitch with a knee injury, and O’Neill admits he would be delighted to still be in the hat - meaning a replay would be satisfactory - come Sunday night.
Boyhood Sunderland fan O’Neill said: “This club has lived on the 1973 FA Cup Final against Leeds United - Jim Montgomery’s double save, Porterfield scoring the goal - and that’s really, absolutely fantastic.
“But you would like to think, at some stage or another, this club in the next 100 years will be able to share a few more moments than that.
“For a club of this size to have not won a trophy since 1973 is a great shame.
"To have only been in one final since then, you wouldn’t have believed it at the time. It might be a fairly lengthy time before we are contesting that, but a club of this size should be doing better.
“Getting to Wembley would be absolutely fantastic. For a club like us to go down there would be a great day out. It would be an achievement.
"You dare not think about getting to Wembley yet, that is the point. We’ve 6,000 going to the game [at Everton] and that is really fantastic. It has given everyone a lift, including the players.
"We’ll give it everything we’ve got, we have to. The lesson of history is that these opportunities don’t come around very often.
"You think that at the age of 21 or 22, you lose a quarter final, 'That’s all right, it’ll be around next year.' Then you’re 29 and it hasn’t happened for you.”
O’Neill’s big regret is that he didn’t win the competition during Nottingham Forest’s glory years.
He added: “Even in our great days under Brian Clough the FA Cup, which was massive in those days, eluded us.
“We lost a quarter-final against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
"It was the fifth round the following year against Arsenal and Birtles missed a sitter, and he didn’t miss too many for us in those days, and then Frank Stapleton scored.
"I could go through many harrowing moments - Newcastle United in 1974. You thought it was bad enough to lose that but you’ll have plenty of time again. I was 22 at the time, then it just goes.
“Over the last 10 to 12 years the FA Cup may have lost some of its magic. I’m hoping it might get that back over the next 60 or 70 years.
"I’m hoping it will become the most important cup competition. It is for us this weekend.”
O’Neill is unshaken by Sunderland’s dreadful record against Everton - they have not won at Goodison Park since 1996, and have lost 11 of 15 meetings.
Stephane Sessegnon and Lee Cattermole are still suspended, but on-loan Arsenal forward Bendtner’s inclusion is a bonus.
The Sunderland boss added: “It is pretty important that he is fit. In the past couple of weeks, he has come back from injury and has shown decent form.
"Whatever we say about him in a jocular sense, he is a strong boy and he is a really decent footballer.
“Obviously with Sessegnon out of the side, he [Bendtner] becomes very important to us.
"I don’t think Nicklas has any doubt he is a big game player and this is a big game for us. He has played in big, big games for us.
“Only last year he played against Barcelona [for Arsenal in the Champions League], and I must remind him that he missed a glorious chance to put them out! I think he’s forgotten that.
"He is up there with the most self-confident I’ve worked with. He definitely hasn’t a problem with it.
"I think that’s healthy - that confidence and self-belief had him taking the penalty against Newcastle.
“I know if I’d been a player and someone had thrown the ball to me, I would have been down that tunnel!
"With that, you had the feeling he would score that goal. He has carried that on.
"He reacted pretty quickly last week when the ball came off the post [to score the only goal against Liverpool]. He is pretty confident. He is up there with a few others. He is a fine player.”