The big take from Saturday’s defeat against Leeds United at the Stadium of Light was that so many of our first team players looked absolutely knackered.
Yup - we’re just five games in to the season and they’re spent.
We knew that life in the Championship was going to be taxing, and playing a pressing style with the same eleven players three times in a week is bound to take its toll. Even if yer dar thinks they should be able to play ninety minutes seven days a week, the fact is that high levels of fitness has no baring on your ability to recover quickly.
But we move on, we learn. Tonight, against lower league opposition, Simon Grayson has a chance to rest players that may have otherwise played if this was a league game. It’s a risk, of course - Carlisle are no mugs and have started their season well, so we have to tread carefully - but you have to expect that whoever comes in to our side this evening will use this opportunity as a chance to show Simon Grayson exactly why they should be featuring more in the league.
Specifically I’m talking about Joel Asoro, Robbin Ruiter, Darron Gibson, Bryan Oviedo and Adam Matthews. Each player can make a strong claim for starting on Saturday at Barnsley with a good performance tonight, and it’s about making the most of your opportunities when they present themselves to you.
Jason Steele’s questionable positioning for Leeds United’s second at the weekend just makes you wonder whether or not Grayson might opt to give Ruiter his chance tonight, and it’s certainly something that I’d welcome having seen the Dutchman perform admirably down at Scunthorpe and Bradford. There’s absolutely no reason why the former FC Utrecht man cannot be our first choice between the sticks this season, provided of course Grayson isn’t completely set on sticking by Steele regardless of his flaws.
We are undoubtedly weakest at full back and both Oviedo and Matthews have to give a good account of themselves tonight. Brendan Galloway has been absolutely atrocious since arriving from Everton and had his worst game yet on Saturday - even a semi-decent performance from Oviedo this evening should offer us encouragement. The same goes for Adam Matthews - if he can show he can offer us something different to Billy Jones, i.e. by being a useful offensive outlet, then there will be a significant case to put forward for giving him a chance to play at Oakwell this coming weekend.
Darron Gibson has his shortcomings, but he’s never played outside of the Premier League - you have to imagine he can offer this team more than just being an option to bring on late in games. The same perhaps goes for Jack Rodwell - though he’s missed out mainly through injury, so he can be excused.
Ultimately I feel that Grayson needs to be more open to rotating his squad for the league games, particularly if we are to continue playing in the style that we’ve utilised since the season began. There’s certainly not enough about that starting eleven that warrants playing the same team in every game.
Those players that take part tonight HAVE to see this as a huge opportunity to prove their usefulness to the Sunderland manager. There’s little over a week to run in this transfer window and it could be the last chance for some of them to sway Grayson’s opinion on their worth to this side.
And with the likes of Duncan Watmore and Paddy McNair on the precipice of a return, plus more additions set to arrive, it’s only going to increase the difficulty for some of those hanging on the fringes of the first team to stake a claim for a regular starting berth.