Gus Poyet: Sunderland can put 'nightmare season' aside with victory over Man United
Gus Poyet has urged his Sunderland players to put a "nightmare" season to one side and relish the chance to reach the Capital One Cup final.
The Barclays Premier League's bottom club host faltering Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday evening in the first leg of their semi-final showdown.
United's visit to Wearside comes against the backdrop of an intensely difficult few months for the Uruguayan and his players, who have won only three league games all season, two fewer than they have managed in the domestic cup competitions.
However, while top-flight survival remains the overwhelming priority, Poyet insists the chance to claim a famous scalp and book a trip to Wembley is one which should excite his beleaguered troops.
The 46-year-old said: "It's the nice part, the nicest. It's nice to come here and talk about a semi-final and not talk about points and relegation.
"I would like to say it's the nicest part of the season because the rest has been a nightmare with the position in the table, so let's try to enjoy this one and go on and do something important for the club."
If Sunderland head into the game with major challenges ahead of them, their opponents are entrenched in the sort of crisis which has not visited Old Trafford for more than two decades.
Manager David Moyes finds himself in the firing line with his side currently trailing Premier League leaders Arsenal by 11 points and having been dumped out of the FA Cup in the third round by Swansea at the weekend.
The Swans became the fifth visiting side to win at Old Trafford to date this season with West Brom, Everton, Newcastle and Tottenham having previously done so.
However, Poyet insists the fear factor has not diminished.
He said: "No, I don't think so, no. Seriously, no, because it's not about being scared or not.
"I have got different experiences against Manchester United - with Chelsea, we were pretty good against them, and with Tottenham, we were not good enough, and I don't think we were more or less scared.
"I went on the pitch with the same attitude, just to do my job and help my team.
"But overall, they are normally better than you, so you need to make sure you are spot-on."
Former Manchester City midfielder Adam Johnson, however, believes United's current difficulties could open the door for the Black Cats to snatch a foothold in the tie.
He said: "Hopefully we can try to catch them when it is probably the most difficult time they have had in 15 years.
"If there's any time to play them, it's probably now, so we can try to make the most of that.
"But they are still a top quality team with top quality players and the key is to go to Old Trafford not down.
"No matter who you are, you have got to try to win the cup games and try to progress and win silverware.
"The league is the main aim for us, but as long as we are in the cup, we will enjoy it."
John O'Shea is fit to line up against his former club as Sunderland attempt to inflict further misery on Moyes, although Poyet has great sympathy for the Scot and the pressure under which he finds himself.
He said: "It's difficult to feel it, but you can see it and I don't think it's nice, I don't.
"But I am sure that David first is strong enough and good enough to do the job, and secondly, everybody knew that after Alex Ferguson, it would be very difficult, very difficult.
"Time, he needs time and I hope he gets the time to prove he was and is still the right man for Manchester United."