I wonder if the Sunderland fans who used to read these previews still do. I’d often see them crop up on social media or I’d have comments aimed at me directly with ‘laughing emoji’ alongside ‘deluded’ etc. If you’ve read the previews for a while you’ll know that I, like you, was absolutely convinced in Rafa Benitez and his ability to win this division. I don’t think many Sunderland fans laugh about much these days. David Moyes is an utter catastrophe for that football club in much the same way Rafa is miracle for ours.
With this in mind I found myself discussing the game against Preston this week in the League Cup (or EFL Cup in new money) with friends after the win on Saturday and we’re talking allocations, loyalty points etc for the following rounds. I’m not getting ahead of myself. The team and particularly the manager will not be getting ahead of themselves. Any opponent is to be respected and taken seriously never mind one of the country’s inform sides who visit SJP this Tuesday.
Yet it’s hard not get excited. That’s what you’re supposed to do as a fan. Think about the ‘what ifs’ and how far we can go. The draw has been incredibly kind to us and it’s NEVER kind to us. Three home ties so far, all against teams below us in the football league. We’re one game away from a quarter final. We’ve reached that stage twice since 2002, mostly recently in 2014 when thousands witnessed a horror night in North London. We’re two games away from a two legged semi – when I wouldn’t care who we got. Rafa does Cup football. It’s what he’s best at. That’s why he’s won the Champions League, the Europa League, the FA Cup, the Coppa Italia. He can win any cup tie, and that’s exciting.
I think there’ll be over 40,000 excited people at SJP on Tuesday. £10 a ticket, £3 for kids. Get yourself along if you can. If we get through on Tuesday I’ll be as excited for the draw on Wednesday as I’ve ever been for any cup draw. Left in the completion will be some excellent sides but also two of Leeds, Norwich, Bristol City, Hull. I wouldn’t care who we got as long as it was at home.
I am getting ahead of myself here though. A really tough game awaits United with Preston passing their toughest test of the season on Saturday by coming away from Carrow Road with three massive (and appreciated by us) points. A clean sheet away from home at Norwich suggests we’ll do incredibly well to break them down. Since losing by five at Brentford in September Preston are seven games unbeaten which includes five wins. They’ve won at Bournemouth and Norwich as well as picking up points and division high flyers Brighton and Birmingham. This is a munched tougher assignment than when the draw was made.
There will be changes for United, there always is. I expect almost a fresh eleven to play bar perhaps Shelvey and possibly one of the fullbacks. Ritchie may start. We could however see the ‘first team’ put out for this game and then wholesale changes made for the weekend. I’m only convinced Matt Sels gets a start. Presuming the changes are for this games the likes of Diame, Mitrovic and Mbemba will need to ensure they put in very strong performances to get their places back. All three would have expected to play this season and all three have found themselves out of the team.
I’d rather win this than win on Saturday, considering the small cushion we’ve achieved at the top of the league. Hopefully it’s a night that ends with us being three games from Wembley.
Prediction 2-0 United.
ALEX HURST – Follow Alex on @tfalex1892
The nights are drawing in, the clocks go back soon and its definitely getting nippier across the doors. This is the ideal time to fire up the tablet, i-pad or whatever, bump the heating up and dive right into issue 127 of Newcastle United’s favourite ever fanzine, true faith. The latest issue has over 90 pages of the best quality fanzine writing you can shake a stick at, though why you’d do that is a bit of a mystery. Since 1999 true faith has been providing the alternative view on life at Newcastle United and the world around it. As lovers of football we have experiences away from the Newcastle United bubble which some of you will enjoy too. After creating one of the best hard-copy fanzines in the UK we transferred to a digital format a few years ago and since then our readership has gone through the roof. true faith is a very modern fanzine with all the bells and whistles of the digital age but we very much carry a torch for the traditional fanzine movement. So there’s no click-bait crap, no cut and paste plagiarism and kidding on we are a news-line or some such. true faith is a Newcastle United fanzine and we’re happy that way. Please enjoy the latest issue. Just click on the image below to get full, instant and FREE access.