Newcastle head coach Steve McClaren is refusing to abandon the FA Cup as he attempts to inspire a Premier League fightback.
McClaren could be forgiven for giving the competition little priority with top-flight survival currently his major concern.
However, he has vowed to field as strong a team as he possibly can – although could be tempered by what he described as a series of unspecified “niggles” – in Saturday’s third-round trip to Watford with the Magpies’ hierarchy having signalled during the summer that it was to dispense with its policy of effectively treating the cup competitions as an inconvenience.
McClaren said: “Honestly, it does not matter what game it is tomorrow in whatever competition, we want to win the game, and that is the message that we need to get out.
“We need to win the game and to win the game, we need a damn good team out there, a damn good team, a team that can compete and has the possibility of winning.
“It is not as if we are at home to lower league opposition. Watford are flying high and we have to be strong.”
McClaren’s veracity is likely to be judged as soon as fans – embittered by tears of under-achievement in a competition the club has won six times, but not since 1955 – see the teamsheet.
However, having experienced just how valuable a cup run can be to a club’s league form during his time in charge at Middlesbrough, the 54-year-old is hoping to establish a momentum to take into difficult home games against Manchester United and West Ham over the next week or so.
Boro were languishing in the Premier League table early in 2006 – one fan even hurled his season ticket at McClaren in disgust during a 4-0 home defeat by Aston Villa – but runs to the semi-final of the FA Cup and the final of the UEFA Cup resurrected the campaign and helped to propel their manager into the England job.
He said: “We were really struggling – the lad threw the season ticket and everything – then we went on a decent cup run and the momentum, the confidence, the belief the players got through progressing through the cups transferred to our league form and made us safe by the end of the season, and we focused on the two semi-finals.
“So where we are, it’s a very important game where we’re trying to build confidence and belief and form. That’s the key thing for me.”