Midweek cup ties are often seen as a minor annoyance to most clubs, but with the 2014 League Cup run still fresh in my memory I'm clinging on to the hope that Sunderland can progress and use a good result this evening as a launch pad for getting our Premier League campaign going after a faltering start.
I've seen some people state that we should use tonight as a chance to rotate the squad and give players who need game time an opportunity to play but I'm not sure I agree - at this stage, winning tonight could be a huge boost for confidence ahead of what is already a massively important game against Crystal Palace on Saturday. David Moyes should (with the exception of Jermain Defoe) pick the strongest team available to him and go all out to ensure we get through to the next round.
Paddy McNair, Donald Love, Mika, Jason Denayer and John O'Shea need game time but if they don't feature in the manager's plans for Saturday then, for me, they shouldn't play today.
As an aside, Jermain Defoe's absence means that someone else has to play up front tonight and with Victor Anichebe deemed unfit it would limit David Moyes to just two options - Joel Asoro and Duncan Watmore, and I'd expect the latter to be the man that leads the line.
Winning breeds confidence. Simple. Ensuring we have the right attitude tonight and picking a team strong enough to beat a fairly adequate Queens Park Rangers side is hugely important - failing to do so and going out of the competition with a whimper will only compound the misery we've suffered since the season began.
Some Interesting Stats
I read a bit on Kickoff.co.uk that picked out some interesting statistics ahead of tonight's game. One in particular which stood out was the fact that in 90% of our last twenty away games we have conceded at least one goal. And, whilst it's hardly news to me that we are crap away from home, seeing that written down is staggering. On the flip side, QPR have scored in 80% of their last twenty home games.
Both teams have kept just one clean sheet each in their last six matches - the stats would suggest that there might be a few goals tonight at Loftus Road.
Jermain Defoe is nursing a knock and won't be risked, which isn't wholly surprising really as he's far too important to us to be risked in a cup game. Wahbi Khazri has an illness which will keep him from featuring, which is a shame as he would have most certainly started the game tonight if he was available.
Patrick Van Aanholt has been cleared to play following the bizarre run of events on Sunday which saw him removed from the team ten minutes before kick off.
Pickford, Van Aanholt, Djilobodji, Kone, Manquillo, Kirchhoff, Cattermole, Ndong, Pienaar, Gooch, Watmore.
Sunderland fans travelling to the game tonight will be expecting to see their side to at least attempt to dominate proceedings, and that is something that Moyes says he would like to see his players achieve.
Speaking to SAFC.com about the task ahead, he said:
Our plan is to stay in the cup as long as we possibly can.
I know the Everton game was the one which didn’t look right but I think we’ve seen a bit of improvement the whole way through. Resilience is something the team has had before and we must keep that but try to build on it.
We’re taking it one game at a time and we’re focusing on going to Queens Park Rangers and putting out a team which we feel can go there and get a result.
I’d like us to be more positive in our play if we can and we’re trying to do that, but I have to give the players credit for a lot of things. We have to win – that’s what we have to do – and my job is to find a way of winning so whatever it takes I have to do that.
Even though I've seen nothing from the players thus far to suggest that we can go out and win games, I do feel that they'll be optimistic at their chances in the three fixtures ahead of them and, as I've stated previously, putting a strong team out tonight and winning could really boost our chances of winning on Saturday against Crystal Palace.
With that said, I'm going for an optimistic 3-1 Sunderland win, and with Duncan Watmore up front I'm backing him to score tonight and show why he's being wasted as a wide-man.