TIM Ream admits to having mixed emotions as he dives into another season in the FA Cup.

On one hand, Wanderers have a chance of some respite from their increasingly erratic Championship season, and the opportunity to bounce back from Tuesday’s defeat at Leeds United with a win in front of their own fans.

But the American defender is also acutely aware that league matters come first, and though Sunderland provide their first hurdle, talk has already begun about Millwall’s visit in eight days’ time.

“We know the FA Cup is important and we can forget about the league for a week,” Ream said. “But there is a game coming up right after so we can’t completely forget about the league if we want to move up.

“Right now, winning in the FA Cup would be nice but we have to start winning in this league to move up the table.”

Ream’s defensive partner for the last three games, Zat Knight, also described tomorrow’s clash as “a little bit of a distraction” before qualifying his comment by agreeing that a win could be the unlikely catalyst for a long-awaited change in form.

“It’s a good game,” he said. “Sunderland have had a stop-start season and it will be a test.

“I think it’s a bigger game for some of the lads who haven’t been playing.

“It could be a nice distraction because we need to start winning. Maybe then it will go into the following week because we really need to start getting on a run if we want to get near the play-offs.”

Exactly who lines up at the back is a matter of debate, with Sam Ricketts and Joe Riley both in the frame for a start against the Black Cats.

After a patchy season to date, Matt Mills’ injury and David Wheater’s continued absence has given Ream a chance to cement a place in the back four.

The 25-year found himself out of the reckoning after defeats against Burnley on the opening day, Hull City, Middlesbrough and then the fortuitous draw at Brighton, after which he became a victim of Dougie Freedman’s rotation system.

But his most recent displays have shown evidence of an improved partnership with Knight, and one on which Ream is determined to build.

“For the most part I’ve been pleased with the performances, not just for myself but with the other guys coming in; for example, Darren Pratley has had two good games,” he said. “It’s just been a question of working hard in training.

“We all knew we would get our chance to play. It’s just a matter of going out there, doing your job and doing what they ask.

“I have done fairly well apart from a few things here and there. And they can be fixed. I am happy to be playing again.

“Unfortunately, my first game (at Burnley) came on a bad day. As much as we want to focus on results, we have to go out and perform. And if you perform fairly well, you have a chance.

“We have done that for the most part and I have been happy I have been able to step in and help the team.”

Like many around the Reebok, Ream has noticed a chink of light on the horizon in the form of compatriot Stuart Holden’s impending return.

The midfielder is pencilled in to feature for the under-21s against Oldham on Tuesday night in a game that could yet be switched from Leyland to the Reebok Stadium.

And for a squad in need of a fillip, Holden’s arrival might just be in the nick of time.

“It’s nice to have him back, in and around the guys, the changing rooms and on the pitch knocking a ball around,” Ream said. “He has got such a presence and a good personality.

“He brings the best out in guys. It’s nice to have him back and hopefully he is out here with us in the next couple of weeks.”