Birmingham City won the League Cup in 2011 and were relegated


Birmingham City won the League Cup in 2011 and were relegated – would Sunderland fans be willing to pay that price for silverware?

The much-maligned League Cup is well overdue a dose of TLC this Sunday as Manchester City look to kick-start their fading quadruple hopes with a victory over underdogs Sunderland.

The Capital One Cup Final should be a competitive affair featuring a favourite for the title who will undoubtedly field the strongest team possible, against a Premier League team who are looking to crown their renaissance under Gus Poyet with the first silverware of the season.

Last year’s competition was layered with romance as rank minnows Bradford City in the bottom division of the Football League spectacularly reached the final to face Swansea City – a team who had made the journey from the bottom rung to the top flight in six years. However, the fact that two such teams reached the final highlighted the bigger teams not treating the competition with the respect it deserves.

Yet Manchester City’s path to Wembley has reflected the respect new boss Manuel Pellegrini treats every competition in his first season in British football. Case in point is the semi-final second leg with West Ham. With his team rolling into the game at Upton Park already with a massive 6-0 advantage, the Chilean boss sent out the biggest guns at his disposal to finish the job against the Hammers. West Ham didn’t stand a chance against the combined might of Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas and Fernandinho.

This is especially revealing when you look at the fringe players to whom City could have given game-time to see out this dead rubber of a fixture, but chose not to. Players such as Jack Rodwell and Micah Richards, the former used sadly only as quota filler for English representation in any given City squad.

Sunderland can look back on their campaign this season with pride as their wins over Chelsea and Manchester United exhibited a desire that seemed to have been extinguished under former manager Paolo di Canio – the man who defines himself by his own pride and passion.

Poyet took over a club he remarked as being ‘very very dark and sad’ and has transformed them into a club with a real chance of survival. The nature of the bottom half of the Premier League this year is that every team from West Ham in 10th will fear relegation up until the last few games.

The Uruguayan arrived at the Black Cats when they had accrued just one point from their first three months, and were in real danger of replacing Derby County as the worst team in Premier League history. Poyet has steered them away from such depths and is now in charge of a team that has a real chance of survival.

It is refreshing, also, to read remarks from Poyet that he understands exactly why many Sunderland fans believe winning the League Cup is more important than survival – refreshing and heartening indeed. However, Birmingham City’s League Cup win in 2011 was the trigger for an appalling run of form that saw them drop out of the top flight.

Silverware though is a dream for fans, and many Sunderland supporters believe relegation is a price worth paying for a first trophy since 1973, despite Birmingham City’s struggles in the last three years.

That watershed final in 2011 between the Blues and Arsenal is also testament to the importance of the big sides winning a trophy. There are few greater millstones attached to Premier League sides than the ‘not won a trophy since 2005’ that droops around the neck of every Gooner. 

Pellegrini knows the importance of that first piece of silverware to a new manager, and the way he approached the West Ham second leg is proof of that – to succeed and win trophies requires professionalism. That is why for every neutral who follows this Sunday’s game will feel their heart cheer for a Sunderland victory but their head plump for City to kick-start the Pellegrini era. 

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