The Black Cats’ FA Cup campaign gets a second chance to repeat the heroics of Bob Stokoe’s Wembley warriors, who stunned hot-favourites Leeds United to lift the cup 40 years ago. Sunderland are certainly overdue some success, since their last FA Cup Final appearance was in 1992 when Liverpool cruised to a 2-0 victory. Only lifting the cup twice (1937 and 1973) in the world’s oldest knock-out competition (founded in 1871) is a disappointing return.
Martin O’Neill seems to be on a personal mission to give my spell checker a breakdown, with the Wearsiders being linked to players like Groningen’s Virgil van Dijk and the anticipated signing of Al Hilal’s Kader Mangane on loan. The 6ft 5in defender would certainly be a welcome acquisition and will join Alfred N’Diaye, a 6ft 2in tough-tackling midfielder and France Under-21 international who cost £3.8million. But these are stars of the future and I think it’s appropriate to acknowledge a star of today. Step forward Simon Mignolet, a modern-day ‘Monty’ whose impressive form has resulting in him being named the North East Football Writers’ Association’s player of the year for 2012. This honour was made all the sweeter as Mignolet beat Newcastle United midfielder Hatem Ben Arfa in one of the tightest votes in the award’s 32-year history.
Bolton Wanderers are nicknamed the ‘Trotters’ – no relation to ‘Fools and Horses’– although they have been playing like TITs (Trotters Independent Traders) for the last couple of seasons, losing their Premier League status and currently languishing 16th in the Championship. However, they still demand respect, or they may ‘wander’ into the Stadium of Light and nick a result. Their FA Cup tradition is impressive, playing in seven finals and winning it four times – although the last time was in 1958 and they fell at the Semi Final stage in 2011. The key threats to Sunderland come from the aging Kevin Davies (one time Sunderland target) who has scored 6-goals this season and attacking midfielder, Chris Eagles, their top scorer with 7-goals who was once considered good enough to be on Manchester United books.
However, I expect magic-Mignolet to clip Eagle’s wings unless Kieren Westwood gets a rare run out. Connor Wickham has a strong claim for a starting berth given his galvanizing effect on the team during their first Battle-of-Bolton when Sunderland recovered from a two goal deficit. Matt Kilgallon also warrants serious consideration given a defensive injury list that includes: Wes Brown (as always), Danny Rose and Carlos Cuellar, with Phil Bardsley lacking match practice. No doubt other fringe players such as Fraizer Campbell, Louis Saha and James McFadden will be keeping their fingers crossed as O’Neill tussles with the decision of either fielding his strongest team, or taking the opportunity to rest key players – what would you do? Certainly, the Sky Sports man of the match against West Ham, David Vaughan, should keep is place following his energetic and combative performance following a prolonged period on the sidelines.
Anyway, it’s now time to ‘trott’ out my match prediction. Sunderland have an impressive record against Bolton and I’m expecting this to continue with a home win and the Cats getting the cream – but I could still end up looking a plonker.
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