SUNDERLAND are facing their biggest game of the season so far when Everton come to the Stadium of Light tomorrow night.
Having reached the magical 40-point mark with their win over Queens Park Rangers, it’s fair to say that the Black Cats needn’t worry about the drop.
Of course, Sunderland haven’t really had to look over their shoulders since Martin O’Neill took over the reins.
But 40 points is always the target everyone seems to aim for to secure Premier League safety.
I’m sure O’Neill, and the club as a whole will be wanting to finish the league campaign strongly, after all every place you finish higher up the table brings in more than £500,000 to the coffers.
However, surely the cup represents a massive opportunity for the Wearsiders.
Should they manage to see off Everton tomorrow night, which is no mean feat, then the red half of Merseyside lie in wait in the semi-finals.
Again, despite their recent form, a win over Kenny Dalglish’s men is still far from an easy ask, especially given that Liverpool are a side who know how to win at Wembley.
Sunderland’s last experience of success at the home of English football was in the stadium’s previous existence – complete with the famous twin towers – some 39 years ago.
Despite appearances, I’m too young to remember the euphoria that surrounded that historic win in 1973 (I didn’t get to see much of the game from my pram).
Of course, I’ve seen it many times since – Ian Porterfield’s goal, Jimmy Montgomery’s double save, Bob Stokoe’s celebration jig.
It is those magic memories that a generation of Sunderland fans have had to live on.
Now O’Neill’s red and white army have a chance to write themselves into Sunderland folklore.
Should they beat the Toffees tomorrow night then the FA Cup dream will take another step closer to becoming a reality.
The return from suspension of Stephane Sessegnon has certainly boosted their chances.
The Benin international is key to Sunderland as an attacking force, and O’Neill will be hoping he can lead the Everton defence a merry dance.
There will be those who feel Sessegnon should have more goals to his name this season than eight he has managed so far this term.
But the player, who looked out of sorts under former boss Steve Bruce in the early part of the season, has flourished under O’Neill.
Having scored just twice in 13 league games this season under Bruce, Sessegnon has netted five times in 17 league games and one in the FA Cup with O’Neill in the hot seat.
But goals aside, the attacker brings so much more to the party for the Black Cats.
His flair and ability to run at defenders offers the Wearsiders an outlet when under pressure, and he often wins free-kicks in dangerous positions.
Sunderland are a far more threatening proposition with Sessegnon in the team, and everyone associated with the club will be hoping he can prove a thorn in the side of the Toffees tomorrow.