Graham Kavanagh has challenged his Carlisle United side “to put the club on the map” by dumping Sunderland out of the FA Cup on Sunday.
Kavanagh, in his first managerial position after taking charge of the League One team in September, is one of four former Sunderland players at Carlisle – along with Pascal Chimbonda, Liam Noble and Paul Thirlwell – harbouring hopes of springing a third-round upset at the Stadium of Light, although a calf injury looks set to rule the latter out.
Despite having a strong affinity with the Premier League strugglers, who currently prop up the top-flight table, Kavanagh insists there will be no room for sentiment as he targets a shock victory.
“On a personal level it’s great for me,” Kavanagh told the Sunderland Echo.
“I still live over that way and Sunderland is a club I have close to my heart. I still look out for their results and a lot of my friends are Mackems.
“Having said all of that, I’m going there to try to win.
“The chances of us winning are probably slim. But it’s about what we do on the day.
“It’s the FA Cup and it throws up all kinds of surprises every year. There’s no reason why we can’t be one of them.
“Games like this are a chance to put the club on the map. If you go there and get a win then people up and down the length of the country talk about it.”
For Kavanagh – who was signed for Sunderland by Roy Keane in August 2006 and then helped the club clinch promotion back to the top-flight in the same season – the timing of this weekend’s reunion with his former employers could play into his favour.
Gus Poyet’s men have won just two of their previous 10 games and suffered a morale-sapping 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa on New Year’s Day in their last outing.
However, Sunderland have enjoyed success in a knockout competition this season, progressing to a two-legged League Cup semi-final against Manchester United.
Carlisle are 15th in League One, have suffered three defeats in their last five games and are without an away win since October.
The two sides have not faced each other since January 1995 when Sunderland won a third-round replay 3-1 at Brunton Park, while Carlisle’s last victory over the north-east club came back in April 1974.
Defender Marcos Alonso is in line to make his Sunderland debut after joining on loan from Fiorentina this week, with Poyet expected to ring the changes to give some of his fringe players the chance to impress.
Carlisle have doubts over defensive duo Max Ehmer (shoulder) and Courtney Meppen-Walter (groin/thigh) as well as on-loan Manchester United striker Tom Lawrence (foot).