LIAM Bridcutt was cast into the role of chief cheerleader at Wembley last March.
Like the rest of the Sunderland squad, Bridcutt sported a cup final suit, travelled through the red and white hordes on the team bus and enjoyed a pre-match wander on the pitch an hour or two before the League Cup final got underway.
But that was the extent of his involvement.
The midfielder knew he couldn’t make any impact against Manchester City after a matter of minutes had cost him the chance to participate in Sunderland’s League Cup run.
When Bridcutt arrived at the Stadium of Light in January 2014, he was already cup-tied after appearing as an 84th minute for Brighton in their first round defeat to Newport County.
Cruelly, that had been a game where he was told that he wasn’t likely to be needed from the bench due to an injury concern, but circumstances dictated his involvement.
But Bridcutt has started all three of Sunderland’s three FA Cup games so far this season and is eager to help the Black Cats take a step closer to returning to Wembley at Bradford City this weekend.
He said: “I only experienced it in the background last season.
“The day at Wembley was an event and it was a great feeling to be a part of it.
“Just seeing the fans on the day was something special and it would be great if we could do it again.
“But that’s given me the drive to go and do it this season and actually play in the cup.”
Victory at Valley Parade would leave Sunderland just one game away from a Wembley semi-final, with the make-up of this year’s competition handing the Black Cats a glorious chance to progress.
A maximum of six Premier League teams will be involved in the quarter-finals, while current top six occupants Chelsea, Manchester City, Spurs and Southampton will play no further part.
However, Bradford’s victory over Bridcutt’s boyhood club Chelsea in the last round serves as a poignant reminder about the pattern of upsets in this year’s cup.
“There’s a few big teams out now and it gives us a bigger chance,” added Bridcutt.
“The way the cup is at the minute, you can’t right anyone off.
“Without a doubt, everyone is seeing an opportunity in the cup after the results in the last round.
“Everyone is going to look at it as a chance to go and win the cup this season.”