So, we know what our reward for victory tomorrow will be: Sunderland at home.
Will that impact upon Steve Bruce’s team selection? It should certainly compel him to take his strongest possible side to the South Coast tomorrow, for we are now just two victories against lowlier sides away from the FA Cup semi-finals for only the second time in our entire 110 year existence. History beckons for City, and to throw that away would be a desperate pity.
What we do know is that the manager will be without Shane Long and Nikica Jelavić, both ruled out of because the ludicrously archaic cup-tied rule – seriously, in an age when the Cup’s lustre has never been dimmer, who cares whether a player turned out for someone else in an earlier round? Whether they’d have been selected is immaterial, it’s an idiotic regulation that needs scrapping.
Available for selection is Sone Aluko, whose return to fitness has allowed him to make appearances from the subs’ bench in the last two Premier League games. Might this be the perfect opportunity to give him a start? It’d work for two reasons: we’re more likely to win with him in the attack, and it’ll build up his match fitness for the run-in. Allan McGregor has also served his recent ban and can play again; whether he is brought straight back in or Steve Harper keeps the gloves is an interesting question.
Brighton’s approach to this game will also be a quandary for them. They’ll fancy beating both City and Sunderland, and not without justification. It’s hard to imagine them not playing their strongest possible side. Will Buckley and ex-Tiger Keith Andrews are both fit again, should Seagulls boss Óscar García require them.
It’s been a decent season for Brighton so far. They’re currently 7th in the Championship, just one point away from the play-off places in which they finished in 2012/13. Their record at the Amex Stadium is a little mixed, with seven wins from 15 matches and a slightly disappointing return of 21 goals in those games. That said, City’s record on the road is hardly stellar, with two League wins supplemented by Cup wins at Middlesbrough and Southend.
We also have a staggeringly terrible record at Brighton, wherever they’ve played. None of our last twenty matches at the Goldstone/Priestfield/Withdean/Amex have seen us win; you must go all the way back to August 1965 for the time that Brighton v Hull City ended in an away win, an incredible sequence that also included an FA Cup loss in 1985. And of course, this unfathomably dreadful sequence began before any of the current squad were even born, but as supporters, we’re long accustomed to East Sussex bringing footballing despair.
That’s one of the reasons Brighton start as favourites, the announcement of the sides notwithstanding – they’re 7/5 to win, while City are as long as 12/5. A draw neither side would appreciate is also 12/5. So, to Brighton we go. Defeat would not be a disaster, but not taking it seriously would be.