BOBBY Stokes would no doubt be turning in his grave, bless his soul.


What would the man, whose goal on May 1 1976 gave Saints their greatest ever moment, have made of Mauricio Pochettino’s team selection at the weekend?


Handed a great chance to reach the quarter finals of the FA Cup – 90 minutes from a Wembley day out – what did the manager do against a Sunderland side concentrating on other priorities?

He dropped his regular goalkeeper, Artur Boruc.

He dropped his leading goalscorer, Jay Rodriguez.

He dropped his main centre half, Jose Fonte (with the other one out injured).

And guess what he did with his two in-form defensive midfielders, Jack Cork and Morgan Schneiderlin?

Yes, he dropped them too.

A Saints side showing six changes from the one that had triumphed at Hull in the league a few days earlier were subsequently dumped out of the FA Cup.

Unlike their exit at the same fifth round stage at Bristol Rovers almost six years ago to the day, Saints’ exit was not smothered in humiliation.

But it did leave a sour taste in the mouth.

Saints exited the world’s greatest club knockout competition with more than a handful of fans accusing them of treating the FA Cup with little more than contempt.

Pochettino has earned plenty of plaudits since arriving at St Mary’s, and he has deserved them.

But at the weekend, he let every single Saints fan down with his team selection.

Sunderland made a raft of changes because Gus Poyet knows that Premier League survival is his priority.

Saints are not going to finish in the Champions League places, and they are not going to get sucked in to a relegation battle.

With that in mind, Pochettino should have targeted the FA Cup.

It is the competition that could turn him into a living legend at Saints. Ask Lawrie McMenemy, if you want a second opinion.

But no. The sight of Jos Hooiveld and Guly in the starting line-up were indications that, for whatever reason, Pochettino was not taking the FA Cup with the seriousness the situation deserved.

Hooiveld has looked uncomfortable in the few Premier League games he has played this season, while Guly has been another peripheral figure. Victor Wanyama is a £12m midfielder but he failed to impress when coming back from injury at Fulham recently, and looked off the pace again on Saturday.

Cork or Schneiderlin should have played instead. Preferably both.

The manager could not blame injuries either for his selections. Rodriguez and Schneiderlin both came off the bench and Cork and Fonte both sat on it for the whole 90 minutes, so presumably they were fit.

The Daily Echo’s online forums were full of furious Saints fans sounding off in the wake of Saturday’s defeat, and it is hard to argue with their frustrations following a tame surrender from a competition which 38 years ago gave Saints their greatest victory.

The English footballing landscape has changed considerably since that heady day against Manchester United in 1976.

Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. This was one of the nots.

Pochettino has not helped himself this season by sending out his assistant Jesus Perez to conduct both the pre match and post match interviews surrounding all cup ties.

Poyet didn’t send his No 2 out to face the media before or after the Sunderland game, and he’s got far more on his mind regarding league survival.

I have no wish to infer that Pochettino does not care about the FA Cup or the League Cup. He has never said that, and I’m sure he never will.

But he did go public to state that the Europa League could ‘kill’ clubs of Saints’ stature with regards to the qualifying and group games needed before you progress to the knockout stages.

He should have stayed quiet, kept his thoughts to himself.

As soon as he spoke, it did not need a large jump of thought to wonder how seriously he would be taking the FA Cup, a tournament with a Europa League spot for the winners (or the runners-up if won by a Champions League qualifying club).

At the weekend we saw how seriously he took it.

Not very.

Perez was then sent out to face the press, when really the manager should have fronted up the critical questions. By staying in the shadows, Pochettino did not do himself any favours. His actions did not reflect well on the man.

I have no reason to disbelieve Fonte when he told the media after the win at Hull that all the Saints players were desperate to follow in the footsteps of the 1976 legends.

He knows the importance of the FA Cup.

At a time when Saints are totally safe from relegation, and unlikely to improve their league position that much if at all, Mauricio Pochettino should have been well aware of the importance too.

Perhaps he needs a history lesson, to fully understand why players such as Stokes, Ian Porterfield, Roger Osborne, Ricky Villa, Norman Whiteside, Keith Houchen and Lawrie Sanchez are legends at their respective clubs.

Those were cup final heroes of an era when the competition truly meant something to every football fan.

Truly meant something to every club.

Deep down, I’m convinced a lot of fans still care, especially if their team has got nothing else to play for.

It’s just a crying shame that the men in charge of picking the teams these days don’t share that view.

And every time a manager makes a team selection like Pochettino did at Sunderland, so the FA Cup loses a tiny bit of its fairydust.

To sum up, I don’t think Pochettino treated the FA Cup with contempt or disdain, or a lack of respect, on purpose.

I just don’t think he understands what it really means.

Whatever, his attitude needs to have changed by next season because Saints are not a big enough club yet to carry on treating cup competitions like they have been in recent months.