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Preview: Time for Sunderland strikers to stand up and be counted

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Sunderland enter the third round of the Capital One Cup hoping to find that elusive killer touch which seems so sadly lacking at the moment. A win over fellow Premier League opposition would certainly hand the team a timely boost in their search for success this season.

Charlie Adam and Seb Larsson battling for the ball during their last meeting
Charlie Adam and Seb Larsson battling for the ball during their last meeting
Gareth Copley

Sunderland Team News

There will be wholesale changes to Gus Poyet's side for the League Cup clash with Stoke City, thus offering several fringe players an opportunity to stake their claim for a place in the Premier League eleven for Saturday.

Ricky Alvarez has been passed fit following the knock which kept him out of contention at Burnley last weekend, while fellow South American Sebastian Coates is expected to make his debut. Additionally, the likes of Costel Pantilimon, Billy Jones and Jordi Gomez will all hope to feature from the start.

Meanwhile, Steven Fletcher (calf) and Emanuele Giaccherini (ankle) are unlikely to be risked with a view to them both returning to the squad to face Swansea.

Stoke City Team News

Mark Hughes will be without forward Jonathan Walters due to a calf injury, so could reintroduce former Barcelona star Bojan Krkic after dropping him to the bench against QPR.

Robert Huth, Oussama Assaidi and Marc Muniesa head a long list of substitutes hoping to make the step up to the starting line-up for the tie at the Stadium of Light.

There could also be a return to their old stomping ground for ex-Sunderland duo Phil Bardsley and Thomas Sorensen.

Predicted Line-Ups

Sunderland vs Away team - Football tactics and formations

SAFC (4-1-4-1): Pantilimon; Jones, O'Shea, Coates, van Aanholt; Cattermole; Buckley, Larsson, Jordi Gomez, Alvarez; Altidore.

SCFC (4-2-3-1): Sorensen; Bardsley, Muniesa, Huth, Pieters; N'Zonzi, Whelan; Arnautovic, Bojan, Assaidi; Diouf.

Key Match-Up: Will Buckley v Erik Pieters

Will Buckley's strong running and willingness to go for the jugular was certainly in evidence during an impressive debut for the club at home to Manchester United in late August. However, that was the former Brighton star's only start to date and he will be chomping at the bit for another chance.

Should he get handed that opportunity against Stoke City, it could be Erik Pieters' job to keep the live-wire attacking midfielder quiet.

It's likely that Buckley would be switching wings form left to right regularly, so will face up to both full-backs during the match. Nothing will faze the 24-year-old and he'll fancy his chances against anybody in that Stoke rearguard, whoever he comes up against.

Sunderland: Recent Form LDD

Loss: Queens Park Rangers (A) 0-1

Draw: Tottenham Hotspur (H) 2-2

Draw: Burnley (A) 0-0

Stoke City: Recent Form WLD

Win: Manchester City (A) 1-0

Loss: Leicester City (H) 0-1

Draw: Queens Park Rangers (A) 2-2

Last Time Around: Sunderland 1-0 Stoke City (29/01/2014)

Adam Johnson proved to be Sunderland's match-winner on a cold January night when the two sides last met at the Stadium of Light.

Johnson, enjoying probably his best run of form since joining the club from Manchester City, scored his sixth goal within that one month alone against the Potters in the 17th minute following a parry by goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.

Stoke midfielder Steven N'Zonzi was sent off early in the second period to seemingly put the home side in control, but it served only to galvanise the visitors. The Black Cats were forced to absorb substantial pressure throughout the remainder of the match in order to secure a vital three points, which lifted Sunderland out of the bottom three.

The Ref: Mike Dean

One of the most experienced referees on the circuit, Dean has been in charge of Sunderland games on numerous occasions in the past.

A reasonably strict disciplinarian, the Wirral-based official has pulled out two red cards in five games already this season, while brandishing seven throughout the whole of last term.

However, the last time he sent off anyone in a fixture involving Sunderland was in the derby game away at Newcastle United in March 2012 when handing out nine cautions and two reds in a bad-tempered affair.

What The Managers Said

Gus Poyet:

“I watched a little bit of Stoke yesterday and I’m going to make a few changes.

“I know a few of them, because there are players that cannot play three games in a row.

“But we’re going to use the squad.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for a few players to show me that I’ve made a mistake and they should be playing; the ones who are going to make us win the game in the Premier League next week.”

Stoke assistant boss Mark Bowen:

"We have watched Sunderland a couple of times.

“They have had a similar start to us with a slow start at home, but you only have to look at the players they have available to know it will be a tough game.

"We have a number of players eager to get a game and force their way into the team.”

Roker Report Predicts

It's difficult to predict what will happen between two teams that are likely to be much-changed from the usual line-ups you'd expect to see turning out in the Premier League.

Mark Hughes has managed to integrate a style of football more pleasing on the eye than was evident under previous boss Tony Pulis, but it's still very much a work in progress.

One thing Stoke do have in abundance is a variety of forwards to select from and it remains to be seen who will get the nod up-front and out wide for the visitors.

Sunderland are still searching for the right combination in their attack that'll allow at least one of the club's strikers to finally flourish. At the moment, it seems that should the midfield players fail to pitch in with a goal or two, then nobody else will score.

Somebody needs to prove their worth in front of goal and there's no better time than in a cup fixture against opposition that potentially won't be at full strength.

I can envisage an open game of football between two sets of footballers who will be determined to show they deserve a spot in their respective starting line-ups when returning to league action at the weekend.

With home advantage and a fair wind behind them, Sunderland should have enough to sneak through into the hat for the next round by virtue of a narrow 2-1 victory.