Salut! Sunderland has absolutely nothing against the city of Manchester. We hold no grudges against Stoke or Bolton.
But choices have to be made. Sunderland’s humiliating exit at the earliest possible stage of the FA Cup means we have been able to pick our runners at will in subsequent rounds.
So to do our bit to restore interest in the ailing old competition, colours will now be nailed to the FA Cup mast.
Taking the four 6th round ties in order of play – and how good it would be, says the unashamed football reactionary, if all of them kicked off at 3pm today – this is what Monsieur Salut, without the least consultation with others who contribute to the site, wishes to see happen:
Birmingham City v Bolton Wanderers (1245 today):
Let’s be honest. This is not the glamour tie of the season. Two unfashionable sides battling it out with the vast majority of neutrals probably taking a completely couldn’t-care-less approach to the outcome.
And I cannot pretend to be passionately concerned one way or the other. So the match will be decided, in terms of preference, by weighing up two competing Sunderland connections: Kevin Phillips v Charlie Hurley.
Ordinarily, the matter would be settled by the fact that King Charlie went to Bolton to finish his playing career after the 12 years that made him Sunderland’s Player of the Century.
But there is a compelling reason to decide otherwise. So even if reaching the FA Cup semis smacks of greed for a club that has already won the Carling Cup, I will plump for the Bluenoses.
Q What have been the two most exciting components of half a century spent supporting SAFC?
A Kevin Phillips’s goals and Jimmy Montgomery’s saves.
I would opt for Charlie before either of them but add them together and the combined weight of the post-SAFC Monty/SuperKev attachments to City is more than enough to tip the scales. Birmingham to win.
Manchester United v Arsenal (1715 today)
The lazy man’s assumption is that the winner of this game can start preparing some more space in the trophies cabinet. I am lazy enough to find that a convincing scenario.
Both sets of supporters approach football with the view that the world owes them success but is driven by jealousy and spite to deny them. The sense of grievance may be is nonsense but there is enough of it on each side to cancel itself out as a reason for backing one or the other. Equally, both United and Arsenal have managers with many admirable qualities but also weaknesses for outrageous arrogance and petulance, so that is also a scoring draw – despite M Salut’s soft spot for Arsène Wenger. The choice is therefore made on purer grounds. Which of these clubs currently plays a style of football I would be happy to see emulated by Sunderland AFC? Our second semi-final place goes accordingly to Arsenal.
Stoke City v West Ham United (1400 tomorrow)
With the greatest of respect to friends, acquaintances and colleagues to whom the result of this game will mean an awful lot, I have to be utterly honest and say I really cannot raise a strong preference. Stoke have lots of former Sunderland players in the present squad; they include good ‘uns but, with the possible exception of Tommy Sorensen, no one whose contribution to SAFC stands out unmissably in the memory. The Hammers? I’m still furious about the rip-off prices they are charging for the last game of the season, against us. But commercial unpleasantness should not sway my judgement; Sunderland supporters were rightly dismayed by the rough-house tactics of Stoke in the recent game at the Britannia and for no other plausible reason, the vote therefore goes to West Ham.
Dennis Tueart, Tony Towers, Niall Quinn, Dave Watson, Tony Coton, Peter Reid, Claudio Reyna, Micky Horswill .. and many more, doubtless, overlooked. Of the two Manchesters, Sunderland fans tend to favour City, for so long supposedly in the shadow of brasher, cockier neighbours. Those names linking our two clubs can hardly be dismissed. But for five years and 44 days of the 42 years that have passed since he played his final game for Sunderland, Charlie Hurley was the manager of Reading. Add that to the romantic desire to see the underdog see off the would-be Best in Show champions of Crufts and there can be only one deserving winner. Against all logic and probability, the last semi final place is awarded to Reading in the extravagant hope that they also go on to win the cup.
We’ll know soon enough. But given M Salut’s track record as a forecaster, stand by for victories for Manchester United, Bolton, Stoke and Man City.