Sunderland fans can draw inspiration from the proudest moment in their long history as they hope for an upset in Sunday’s Capital One Cup Final against mighty Manchester City at Wembley Stadium.
In what is considered one of the greatest ever shocks in English football, second division Sunderland defeated reigning league champions Leeds United 1-0 to lift the 1973 FA Cup.
The goal came from John Porterfield who would go on to replace Alex Ferguson as Aberdeen manager in 1986 and then coach Chelsea in the early 1990s.
This weekend, the gulf between the two sides is almost as great. Manchester City are third on the table (with a game in hand) while the Black Cats are third from bottom.
Many Malaysians are disappointed that Sunderland defeated Manchester United in the semi-finals last month to advance to their first major Cup final since 1992.
But Penang-based Astro SuperSport pundit Martin Tierney is one man who is personally delighted that the underdogs prevailed.
Tierney is a Scotsman who works as a scout for several English Premier League and La Liga clubs, as he travels between Malaysia and his European base of Tenerife.
He’s sent four players to Sunderland, including outstanding Spanish midfielder Alex Gorrin who is pushing hard to break into Gus Poyet’s side.
The 20-year-old has been at the club for four seasons and is captain of Sunderland’s highly respected reserve team.
“Alex is getting very close to first team action and trains with them a lot,” Tierney said.
“But with Sunderland being in a relegation battle, Gus Poyet is understandably cautious about using youngsters at this stage of the season.”
Tierney is a former Penang midfielder from the 1990s who also played professionally in Scotland, Singapore and the United States.
The Sunderland connection comes through one of his former teammates from America who now has a high position at the Black Cats’ Academy.
“Sunderland is working hard-to- develop young players but it all boils down to how much money you invest on sending agents to find emerging talent,” he said.
“Certainly the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City are on a whole different level when it comes to the millions that they spend in this area.”
Tierney is also doing his best to help promising Malaysian players to try their luck overseas.
He is taking a group of 15 and 16-year-old players from Penang to play in a tournament in Spain, in June.
“We still need three or four more players from Malaysia. If anyone thinks they’re up to the challenge of playing against youth teams from Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Inter Milan and Nottingham Forest, do get in touch with me.”
Tierney has an extra soft spot for Sunderland because of the prominent yet unfashionable Scottish players on their books, including striker Steven Fletcher, fullback Phil Bardsley and midfielder Liam Bridcutt.
As for the Capital One Cup final, Tierney is hoping for an upset reminiscent of 1973 — or a repeat of Wigan’s giant-killing act in the 2013 FA Cup final. But he is wary of a backlash from a Manchester City team stung by recent Champions League disappointment.
“I think the final will either be a nail-biting David and Goliath affair or a total demolition by Man City,” he said. “Unfortunately, I fear the demolition.”
The Star’s resident Manchester City columnist Shaun Orange, agrees that the Citizens are likely to be extremely focused at Wembley as they chase the first of a potential quadruple of trophies.
“A win would set them up nicely for the run-in to the end of the league season and give them huge confidence ahead of the Champions League return leg at the Nou Camp,” the former Bola@Mamak pundit said.
“With what happened in last season’s FA Cup final, City will have been once bitten and twice shy. I think they’ll comfortably beat Sunderland 3-0.”