After a fairly positive start to the Championship season, Sunderland now turn their attention to the Carabao Cup... also known as the EFL Cup which was formerly the League Cup. Aye - sponsorship gone mad.
Sunderland face League One side Bury for the second time in just over a month, and will be keen to secure a positive result at Gigg Lane as Simon Grayson looks to build momentum. Bury too will be looking to continue their positive start to the season after an opening day victory at home to Walsall, and manager Lee Clark will be eager to find victory against his old side.
Many Sunderland fans will be eager to see whether Simon Grayson sticks with the side that looked impressive at home to Derby last Friday, or if he will look to give several players a chance to challenge for a starting place ahead of this weekend’s fixture against Norwich.
Earlier this week we asked our readers to vote on whether they’d like to see the same side as last Friday, or a changed side in order to give players an opportunity to impress; the poll came back with 66% of you believing changes would be a good choice.
The likes of Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Kone may have slightly more selfish reasons for wanting game time - with both players linked with moves away from the club before the transfer window closes. The likes of Lynden Gooch and Joel Asoro, however, will be eager to play for a chance to establish themselves as important first-team players ahead of the coming campaign. Tonight’s game will be a balancing act for Grayson who walks a tricky path in terms of who to afford a starting place to.
Grayson did speak to the Shields Gazette this week about whether he would potentially give Robbin Ruiter a chance to continue his impressive form between the sticks, noting that:
He'll be in the squad. We've got to try him sometime. I know if I put Robbin in on Thursday he won't let us down, but I could keep Jason in to help the consistency of team selection and developing understandings with people.
It’s clear to see that this evening’s game presents Simon Grayson with several positive headaches with regard to starting places. The gaffer will be keen to see what people have to offer, yet will also want certain players to play again in order to enhance their understanding with other players.
James Vaughan is a great example of a player who could be given more time to try and find the back of the net. The former Bury man missed two penalties in pre-season, but looked a real menace against Derby last week, impressing fans with his determination, link-up play and physicality. All that’s missing is a first goal to help build confidence; will Grayson give him another chance to find the back of the net, against his former employers?
Sunderland and Bury have some history in terms of recent cup football. In fact, the last time Sunderland played first-round cup football we played against Bury. That game was one to forget as Niall Quinn’s last game as caretaker manager ended in a 2-0 defeat to the Shakers.
You might remember Arnau Riera - Lionel Messi’s captain at Barcelona B - was shown a red in the game despite playing relatively well... for the opening three minutes or so at least. Bury then scored two late goals with their opening goalscorer also being sent off for celebrating in the crowd.
It was a mental game which actually heralded the start of a new dawn for Sunderland, as 6 days later Roy Keane became Sunderland boss; the rest, as they say, is history.
Bryan Oviedo is back in training, but more than likely won’t feature in tonight’s game while Donald Love and Josh Maja also unavailable. Duncan Watmore and Paddy McNair are also still on the long-term injury list, but will be key players upon their return, according to Grayson.
Jack Rodwell is back following his recovery from a knock and could play some part.
SAFC’s Starting XI: Ruiter, Matthews, Browning, O’Shea, Galloway, Ndong, Cattermole, McGeady, Gooch, Grabban, Vaughan.
Score: I think Grayson will tinker with his line-up somewhat, but will keep key partnerships together - specifically the central midfield duo and the strike force. Bury are decent opposition, as proved by their pre-season performance against us, but I do think we have enough quality within our ranks to find a good win. I’m going for a 3-1 victory with a Vaughan hat-trick.