GUS POYET is backing Manchester United old boys Wes Brown and John O'Shea to help pile the misery on their former club as Sunderland bid for League Cup glory.
O'Shea is in line to return from a four-game injury lay-off against the club at which he spent almost 12 years alongside 34-year-old Brown to provide the central defensive platform for the Black Cats' unlikely quest to reach the final.
Poyet's men head into the first leg of their semi-final shoot-out with United rooted to the foot of the Premier League table, but the fact that the Uruguayan is able to name the pair at the heart of his defence for the first time since December 21 is a welcome boost.
He said: "It's experience. We are playing against a team that they know very well, they have been in this situation before, semi-finals.
"When they play together, they understand each other. We were doing very well and not conceding goals at all with those two, so it's clear at the moment that if they are fit, they have got a little bit more of a chance than the rest."
Brown, who spent almost 15 years at Old Trafford, returned to action after a three-game ban in Sunday's 3-1 FA Cup third-round victory over League One Carlisle.
Meanwhile, David Moyes and his players will arrive at the Stadium of Light with their critics in full voice after slipping out of the FA Cup at home to Swansea.
Poyet has sympathy with his opposite number, but expects nothing other than a major test.
When asked if he could explain United's current problems, he said: "There are a few players who are missing who are so important. But they are all Manchester United players. I didn't see anyone (against Swansea) who was not a top player."
Asked if the tie is the biggest test of his managerial career to date, Poyet said: "I don't know if it's going to be bigger than saving them from relegation, but so far, yes, probably. It would be fantastic."