The under-pressure manager of Sunderland, Ricky Sbragia, said yesterday that he could have "ducked out" of taking over the club from Roy Keane in December and that he has "no regrets" about succeeding the Irishman despite the anxious end to the season that could still see the Black Cats relegated on the last day.
Sbragia added that his former boss at Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson, is entitled to play whatever side he wants at Hull City on Sunday, though Sbragia asked why the last Premier League games are not on Saturday.
A Saturday fixture would give United more time to recover for the European Cup final against La Liga champions Barcelona in Rome on 27 May and encourage them to play a stronger team at Hull. "Barcelona have been able to play their game on Saturday, why can't we do that?" Sbragia said. "It must be television." Barcelona play Osasuna on Saturday night.
Sbragia's future is the subject of much speculation as is the team Ferguson will field at the KC Stadium. A growing belief is that Sunday's game against Chelsea at the Stadium of Light will be Sbragia's last, but he spoke of his 18-month contract yesterday and said he would like to stay in his post.
"Staying up is my aim this year and for this game, that's it," Sbragia said. "Niall [Quinn] asked me to take the job, it was a difficult job and I could have said no to it and ducked the issue. But I thought we could stay in the Premier League. I would have hoped to have done [that] by now.
"I knew what I had taken on and what I had to do and hopefully by Sunday I will have achieved that. Just now we are in limbo, we can't really plan anything until six o'clock on Sunday. Then everything changes and if we do stay up I will have a few jars.
"I still want the job, I am contracted. It is hard work, enjoyable when you're winning and really hard when you lose. There is no way I thought I would be a manager but when it comes to the nitty gritty and you are asked, you have to take it," Sbragia said. "I would have regretted staying as a coach. I could have ducked it but I would have regretted it."
Sbragia worked for three years from 2002 at United as reserve-team coach. He said he received a good-luck text from Ferguson before Monday's match at Portsmouth and Sbragia has also been in contact with another fellow Scot Darren Fletcher.
"I spoke to Fletch the other day to see how he was because obviously he was down in the dumps," Sbragia said. "I asked if he had his Champions League final ticket or a spare one. I would never be critical [of Ferguson] and maybe Fletch, Gary Neville, Wes Brown will play, and they are not reserve players. He will put a strong team out."
Sunderland have an injury doubt over Steed Malbranque but Newcastle have the greatest injury concerns, particularly in defence where there are question marks over Habib Beye and Jose Enrique. Yesterday Newcastle confirmed that striker Andy Carroll will miss the trip to Aston Villa.
Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough all denied that they would consider any legal action regarding the team that Ferguson fields at Hull, or over Guus Hiddink's at Sunderland, six days before the FA Cup final.