Lee Johnson will send Sunderland out at Arsenal on Tuesday night promising a “blood and guts” performance as they attempt to upset the odds to reach the Carabao Cup semi-finals.
The League One side have fought their way past Port Vale, Blackpool, Wigan and QPR, all away from home, to make the last eight of a competition in which they reached the final as a Premier League outfit as recently as 2014.
For Johnson, the latest man handed the task of restoring the club’s on-field fortunes following their plunge into the third tier, the game at the Emirates Stadium is a chance to assess the progress he believes has been made.
Asked what impact he has had since arriving on Wearside in December last year, the Black Cats’ head coach said: “I think it’s been an honest impact, that’s the first thing. I can look myself in the mirror and say I have tried to do all things right.
“I obviously haven’t made every correct decision along the way, but I think we’ve made more right decisions than wrong.
“The progress, hopefully, is there to be seen and to be judged by everybody else. We are on a good run – in the league, we’re performing well in a really competitive League One this year despite having some adversity with the amount of injuries that we’ve had.
“Obviously it’s nice to be on this stage tomorrow pitting our wits against one of the best teams in the country.
“Yes, we’re the underdog, but that industrious spirit, I’m sure, will be on display in this game and Arsenal will have to work hard for everything they get.
“That’s the key, to make sure that everything we do, we do it strongly and powerfully in our way, and I think the fans will respect that sort of blood and guts performance.”
Sunderland’s main focus this season is to end their stay in League One at the fourth time of asking following successive relegations, but Johnson is relishing the trip to London, even if his “dad joke” landed him in hot water with some Gunners fans and their Tottenham counterparts.
Asked before the draw which team he would like to face, Johnson said with a smile: “I’d love to have Arsenal away, or Tottenham away if not that. And then we’ll wait for the really big guns when it’s two legs.”
Speaking at his pre-match press conference, he said: “Despite my comments and bad dad jokes after the QPR game, genuinely we thought this would be a really good stage and occasion for us as a football club to try to put ourselves back on the map a little bit.”