Back in September, a relatively low crowd watched Sunderland beat Stoke City U21s on penalties in the opening Group A game of this season’s Checkatrade Trophy - and our opponents this evening, League Two’s Carlisle United, beat Morecambe 3-2 to take top spot in the group.
Sunderland sit second, having won one point for the draw, but an extra point for winning the penalty shootout. The game tonight offers the Sunderland fringe players and Academy graduates the chance to lead the group but, more importantly, show Jack Ross what they can do in a competitive game.
Without a game on Saturday, postponed due to international commitments, tonight also allows a number of regular first team players the chance to ‘tick over’ whilst colleagues are away.
The Gaffer says...
We have 14 players unavailable, all for a variety of different reasons. We have players away on international duty, suspended or injured so in that sense the team that will play will be the only team that can play.
We are so stretched personnel-wise. There are injuries to players who haven’t played much this season, so we are limited.
Someone like Bali (Mumba) would’ve played tomorrow but he is away with England so there will be a mix of reasons why players are unavailable.
In terms of first-team players we only have 10/11 available. Some of the stronger under-23 players like Elliot Embleton and Luke Molyneux are out on loan at the minute.
We are stretched but the only positive is that we don’t have a game on Saturday. It makes it slightly easier to do that.
It’s important we talk [the Checkatrade Trophy] up because of the prize at the end of it. It adds to a punishing schedule but that’s the same to all the clubs involved. The latter stages it gets more interesting because of the prize so we want to win.
As Jack Ross has hinted, several players will be representing their country this week. Jon McLaughlin (Scotland), Bryan Oviedo (Costa Rica), Tom Flanagan (Northern Ireland) and Bali Mumba (England U18s) are all away on international duty.
Max Power is suspended following his red card against Bradford City on Saturday while Josh Maja, Jerome Sinclair and Lee Cattermole all have niggling injuries that would benefit from rest. The trio join Glenn Loovens, Charlie Wyke, Duncan Watmore, Donald Love, Lynden Gooch and Denver Hume in the treatment room.
That leaves Jack Ross with a limited squad to choose from. Max Stryjek, Luke Molyneux, Connor Shields and Elliot Embleton are all out on loan, which reduces the options further.
Ross has said the team will almost pick itself. That may well be the case, as we expect some of those who played against Stoke City’s U21 side to continue to represent Sunderland in the competition.
Robbin Ruiter will be in goal, as the only senior ‘keeper available. A back four of Adam Matthews, Jack Baldwin, Alim Öztürk and Reece James is almost a given. Similarly, the midfield options suggest Dylan McGeough and Ethan Robson will come in for defensive pair Max Power and Lee Cattermole, whilst Luke O’Nien, George Honeyman, Chris Maguire and Aiden McGeady are the remaining eleven first team players available. It’s highly likely that all four will play, with Maguire asked to lead the line in the absence of any senior striker.
The bench will be a mix of U23 players, with goalkeeper Max Johnstone, defender Brandon Taylor, and midfielders Owen Gamble, Jack Diamond, Benji Kimpioka all having been around the first team in the last few months. Andrew Nelson may have been another name to add to the squad tonight, but the forward is recovering from recent injury too.
In their last league game at Oldham, Carlisle United ran out 3-1 winners - their third away win on the spin, leaving them tenth in League Two. It may be fair to say Carlisle are better on the road this season, and not a side Sunderland should take for granted.
The two sides have met on a total of 20 occasions over the years, with 10 victories for the Lads compared to United’s four. Our last meeting was in last season’s Carabao Cup, where goals from Donald Love and Lyndon Gooch secured a 2-1 win.
With three points from that victory against Morecambe, Carlisle lead Group A by a single point and boss John Sheridan is looking forward to extending that lead tonight:
The Stadium of Light is a great stadium to go and play football at and it will be a good experience for some of the younger players.
It’s a game where there might be an opportunity for lads who haven’t been getting game time to stake a claim, but it’s another one we want to win.
We want to progress in the competition, and we got off to a good start against Morecambe. Whoever Sunderland put out, they’ll want to win the game as well, and they have some very good players in their squad.
I have no doubt it will be another tough one for us.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Tickets are available on the door this evening, priced at £10.
Audio commentary will be provided by Nick Barnes from around 7pm on both BBC Newcastle and tbe club website.
We’ll also be providing live commentary via our Twitter page and, after the game, there’ll be a match report and player ratings article on the site - so keep an eye out for that.