One romantic outing too many for Sunderland.
Hull 1-4 Newcastle (Prem)
Hull 2-1 Brighton (FAC)
Cardiff 0-4 Hull (Prem)
Brighton 1-1 Hull (FAC)
Hull 0-1 So'ton (Prem)
Man City 3-1 S'land (LC)
Arsenal 4-1 S'land (Prem)
S'land 1-0 So'ton (FAC)
S'land 0-2 Hull (Prem)
Newcastle 0-3 S'land (Prem)
Gus Poyet, his players and the calculator-botherers in the Black Cats' boardroom must have mixed feelings about the cups at present. Certainly, their Wembley day out against Manchester City last Sunday did the badge proud: the fans won kudos for their ear-splitting support, if not the trophy.
But while the League Cup Final gave us a glimpse of how batty the Mackems will go should they actually crack on and lift the far more prestigious silverware up for grabs in May, many at the Stadium of Light will be casting furtive glances at the league table.
Sunderland are in the bottom three with two games already in hand. An FA Cup semi-final and (possible) final would be highly distracting and could add fatally to their fixture congestion.
The money men would choose losing at Hull and Premier League survival every time. Sunderland’s trophy-deprived loyalists might like to quiz Wiganers about what bagging the FA Cup then getting relegated feels like; many would probably still take the deal. Poyet is probably somewhere in between.
While it’s unlikely that such thinking will affect the Uruguayan’s team selection, there is the feeling that Hull – although not safe themselves – can be a little more carefree in their approach to this fixture, and that could give them a psychological edge.
Add in the facts that the Tigers’ home form has been sturdy this term (five wins, four draws in the league), Sunderland’s a little shaky away (just three league wins), that Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic helped dismantle Poyet’s side a month ago after an early sending off, and the truth that Sunderland were dreadful when they lost 1-0 at the KC in November, and the home team should be narrow favourites.
But in truth there is little to separate two well-organised outfits here, and, of course, this is the FA Cup, where the formbooks of cliché are tossed from windows and torn to ribbons, where “romance” and “Hull” can be used in the same sentence without hesitation. So stuff your abacus, pencil-pushers. We’re up for the cup.
Both squads are remarkably intact for this stage in the season: goalkeeper Keiren Westwood is Sunderland’s only missing man; Joe Dudgeon, Paul McShane and Robbie Brady stare into the abyss for Hull.
Player to watch: David Meyler (Hull)
He’s been at the centre of a tabloid frenzy since a bewildered, grey-haired man pushed him away with his forehead last weekend, but Alan Pardew’s headbuttee Meyler also deserves some press for his form this season. The Irishman was on the books of Sunday's opponents for five years without making much of an impression, but has blossomed since joining the Tigers under Steve Bruce. “He has a great mentality and a real appetite to work,” says Bruce of the midfielder who he admits is “not naturally gifted, but By God, he gives everything he has got. He is a throwback – not one of the pampered ones.”
Meyler’s power, energy and spark has been valuable in a Hull side with a tangible togetherness, and his stats aren’t too shabby either. In that loss to Newcastle he was Hull’s third-best passer, an area he regularly shines in: in the 4-0 defeat of Cardiff he completed 30/39, while against Sunderland a month ago he clocked 51/57.
S'land 0-2 Hull (Prem, Feb 14)
Hull 1-0 S'land (Prem, Nov 13)
Hull 0-1 S'land (Prem, Apr 10)
S'land 4-1 Hull (Prem, Sep 09)
S'land 1-0 Hull (Prem, Apr 09)
Bruce has won both previous meetings between the two, completing a 1-0 and 2-0 double over Poyet, although both gents should ease their natural pragmatism for a cup tie, which could make it entertaining. Poyet enjoys manifold different lone striker formations – many quipped, perhaps harshly, that they deployed a 6-3-0-0-1 against Man City, while Bruce flips between 3-5-2 and 4-2-3-1.
1-1 and a replay nobody really wants.
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