Less than 500 hardy souls from Sunderland will make the trip to Merseyside for tonight’s third round League Cup tie against Everton.
With 1,400 tickets allocated for away fans at Goodison this evening, the red-and-white army will be made up of true diehards with a smattering of exiles based in the north west no doubt.
And whilst it may be all too easy to point the finger at the Black Cats poor start to the league campaign for the reason supporters are unwilling to travel tonight, the truth is this Carabao Cup tie means little to either side at this stage of the competition and indeed season.
Sunderland’s away following actually remains as impressive as ever with tickets for the Preston trip at the end of the month on general sale from this morning. Almost 2,000 seats for Deepdale have already been sold to travelling Mackems for Simon Grayson’s return to his old manor.
The League Cup takes a while to gather momentum each season of course but all this Carabao crap has taken its toll more than usual with head scratching draws for each round and a curious branding which simply hasn’t worked.
Neither Ronald Koeman or Simon Grayson will be relishing this one either although the former is desperate for a win to lengthen the odds he will be the next Premier League manager sacked.
Everton’s big money summer purchases have yet to gel this season with just one league win and a dismal start to the Europa League campaign.
Tonight’s game is just the first of four home fixtures in a row for the Toffees in the next eleven days, so the attendance will likely further be hit by thrifty Merseysiders saving their pennies for Bournemouth at the weekend followed by a visit from Cypriot domestic cup winners Apollon Limassol a week on Thursday.
The evening is a special one though as the shared bond between the two clubs and their supporters is marked with players from each side wearing the logo of the Bradley Lowery Foundation on their shirts with an auction to follow.
Tonight is also a chance for the ex-Evertonian contingent at Sunderland to revisit their roots. Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson and Jack Rodwell will likely turn out in red-and-white whilst Mackem-idol Jordan Pickford may be around the Toffees squad.
Maarten Stekelenburg is more likely to be in goal for Koeman’s men however after losing his league starting place to the former Sunderland stopper. Pickford has conceded 9 goals in his last three league games for Everton so will be glad of the rest.
Other ‘ones to watch’ in a blue shirt include Jonjoe Kenny at right back. Evertonians have been fancying seeing the England Under-21 starlet given a first team start and tonight might just see him get it.
Wayne Rooney is likely to be given the evening off after his recent exertions whilst the likes of Oumar Niasse and Aaron Lennon might get a look-in.
Sunderland simply haven’t the personnel to make wholesale changes to the side which faced Hull at the weekend. The ineligibility of Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway means Simon Grayson is two bodies down before he begins selecting his starting eleven for tonight.
The Black Cats boss again gave little away on the injury front in his pre-match press conference so no one really knows whether youngster Joel Asoro is in line for some game time.
The Swedish U21 international was carrying a knock last we heard of him but his ability to take possession of the ball might offer those who will line up behind him a break at least from chasing Everton shadows.
Jack Rodwell could use some minutes as could Darron Gibson while Lamine Kone may be rested and allow John O’Shea to stretch his ageing legs. Jason Steele should step in to goal and be handed the opportunity to show us what he can do as should Lynden Gooch.
Simon Grayson may yet replicate the line-up for the last round at Carlisle with three centre-backs but this time with the intent of simply batting away Everton forays. Alternatively, rotating his defenders remains an option.
Likely Line up: Steele; Jones; Wilson; O’Shea; Oviedo; Gibson; Ndong; Rodwell; McManaman; Asoro; Gooch
Prediction: Everton 11-0 Sunderland. It’ll be like the massacre of Annfield Plain all over again, only with the Lads slayed this time.