Wanderers are up for the FA Cup
FA CUP an unwanted distraction? Not according to Dougie Freedman!
Despite the grey and gloom of a so far unsuccessful Championship season, the Wanderers boss believes a knockout clash with Premier League boys Sunderland could be just the tonic for a team still hankering after their place in the big time.
After Tuesday’s defeat at Leeds United, the wounds were perhaps still a little sore when both Zat Knight and Tim Ream questioned the relative merits of a place in the fourth round.
Freedman, however, was enthusiastic about the arrival of Martin O’Neill’s side, and the chance to cross swords once again with the Black Cats.
“This is what we need right now,” he said. “This is where we realise what we are missing.
“Put that scenario together with the fact it is the FA Cup, a great competition, filled with excitement, it is certainly a game welcomed by me.
“This should be a game where we say ‘that is where we want to be’. We haven’t got that mindset to be a Premiership club but we have got the talent.
“This is where we can put that against Premiership talent and show them we’re not that far away.
“We can show them it’s in the mind, it’s the relegation, a tough division and we’re feeling sorry for ourselves.”
For once, Wanderers might find themselves as slender underdogs at the Reebok.
It has been a season where much has been expected, and little delivered, but Freedman reckons the odds could work in his side’s favour and give his players and the fans a much-needed bit of respite.
“It won’t take away anything that we’re trying to do or alter our gameplan,” he said.
“If we are the underdogs then it’s not by a lot. There is not a great deal of difference in terms of quality in the two sides – just one who are up there right now and another with a hangover from having been there last year.
“Whether you are top, middle or bottom, the FA Cup brings you a distraction where you should be able to enjoy yourself.
“It’s a different kind of game to watch. This is where the granddads and the sons go to the match together and it’s a different atmosphere.”
It is only eight months ago that Wanderers were taking on Sunderland fighting for their Premier League lives – and the two points dropped that afternoon at the Reebok were certainly regretted.
Since then, Sunderland recovered from a poor start to the season to beat champions Manchester City over Christmas and now sit just ahead of the relegation pack, albeit with a stretched squad.
It has been a very different story for the Whites, and the side Freedman inherited from Owen Coyle have struggled to prove their credentials.
Freedman believes the only chance his side have of finally clearing that relegation hangover is with an injection of new players in the January window – and with the return of long-term absentees David Wheater, Stuart Holden and Josh Vela.
“It happens nearly every year,” he said. “It has done in 20 years since I have been involved up and down at this level.
“It happened to me as a player, it happened to the three teams that came down last year and some the year before.
“I know it’s disappointing for the fans and it is for the players as well because they know they have got the talent.
“It’s just getting over the shock. I think the only way you can get over it is by bringing in a different mentality geared towards getting promotion.
“There is nothing wrong with the players here, nothing personal towards me or the fans, it’s just the way a human being is built.
“Once you have got something, to try and keep it at the top is very difficult.
“Trying to get back on top in the world’s best league needs a different mindset and you have to change.”