Goalkeeper: Robbin Ruiter
Jack Ross has the opportunity this evening to tinker with his squad and offer a number of rising Academy stars and those on the fringe of the first team the chance to impress as Sunderland travel to Morecambe for the latest round of Checkatrade Trophy games.
Robbin Ruiter has performed well in this season’s competition and is a far more confident version than the keeper fans saw in the Championship last season. Much credit will go to Ross’ backroom staff, particularly the now-departed goalkeeper coach Jimmy Walker, for returning the Dutchman to the sort of form that prompted Simon Grayson to sign the stopper in 2017.
With Jon McLaughlin available for the league game against Wycombe this weekend, tonight’s game will give Ruiter another opportunity to convince Ross that he is worthy of a new contract.
Defence: Brandon Taylor, Glenn Loovens, Alim Öztürk, Bryan Oviedo
The recent run of seven wins and four clean sheets has been built on consistency and understanding, not least among Sunderland’s back four. With Tom Flanagan missing tonight, there was always going to be changes to the defence. Reece James and Jack Baldwin have performed well in the league of late, but tonight’s game offers a chance for Bryan Oviedo and Glenn Loovens to gain some much-needed game time after their respective lay-offs.
Alim Öztürk has benefitted from regularly appearing in this competition and is likely to start alongside Loovens. The former Sheffield Wednesday captain has been in the matchday squad of late, but will benefit from starting the game tonight. With Flanagan also missing the league game on Saturday, one of the pair will partner Jack Baldwin, so both will be out to impress at the Globe Arena.
Interestingly, the right back spot has already provided one Academy star a platform in this competition, when Denver Hume played in an earlier group game. Tonight that spot could be open to another U23 defender.
Brandon Taylor is a versatile defender who can play full-back or central defence, whilst centre-half Jack Bainbridge joined the Sunderland Academy in the summer, following his release by Swansea City. Perhaps one of these youngsters will be given an opportunity tonight.
Midfield: Max Power, Luke O’Nien, Jake Hackett
Max Power came off the bench on Sunday and will be hoping to make the starting eleven in tonight’s game. Having missed a number of matches due to suspension, the former Wigan man will be keen to resume his Sunderland career in the middle of the park.
Luke O’Nien has been close for a few weeks to starting for Sunderland. A goal against Shrewsbury and winning the penalty to kill off Plymouth’s resolve has Ross wondering how the former Wycombe man be can further integrated into his side. With his former side visiting the Stadium of Light on Saturday, O’Nien will be desperate to make an impression today with an eye on starting this weekend’s fixture.
If there is one Academy player with the potential to force his way into the side tonight it might just be Jake Hackett. A versatile, left-footed midfielder, Hackett normally operates centrally and has great technical ability for a youngster.
Forwards: Lee Connelly, Jack Diamond, Josh Maja
Tonight is an opportunity for the likes of Chris Maguire and Aiden McGeady to catch their breath before Saturday’s league game, whilst Josh Maja will be itching to start after missing the FA Cup-tie at Port Vale on Sunday.
Still a teenager himself, Maja’s rise to prominence is an inspiration to other Academy products, but he himself will be seen as the experienced head up front tonight.
During the last game against Carlisle, both Lee Connelly and Jack Diamond made a solid impression from the bench. That evening another Academy forward, Benji Kimpioka, started the game and scored. With the Swedish starlet absent due to international duty, tonight could see both Connelly and Diamond given another chance to impress.