Sunderland travel to take on League Two side Morecambe this evening as they look to secure their passage through to the knockout stages of the Checkatrade Trophy.
In the last round of games, Morecambe lost to Stoke, whilst the Black Cats defeated Carlisle. As Sunderland lead the group with five points, avoiding defeat against tonight’s League Two opponents will see Jack Ross’ side progress to the next stage of the EFL cup competition.
With that in mind, Ross has the luxury of checking the progress of a few fringe players, the odd Academy prospect, or perhaps one or two who have recovered from injury as well as those who have recently completed suspensions.
The Gaffer says...
We’ll make a lot of changes for Tuesday. It was 5pm on Sunday when we were leaving Port Vale, so it’s obviously not long until we play again.
We’ve only had one day to prepare for the Morecambe game, so within the rules of the competition, we’ll make significant changes to the team. Regarding competition for places, every time we’ve had it, the players have responded well
To achieve the number of victories they have done is remarkable. At any level of the game, it’s not easy to keep banging out wins. Even the top teams, it’s very rare they hammer out the consecutive number of victories that we have.
The players have done it, in very different circumstances and different competitions, and they deserve a lot of credit for that. They’re enjoying it, and I think they’re determined to keep that run going for as long as they can. They’re confident, which comes with winning games, but I’ve also got as group that listen and take on the information they’re given.
The whole group wants to keep that run going. They’ve done it in lots of different ways – sometimes we’ve been good, sometimes we’ve been average, but we’ve found ways to win games. Hopefully, we’ll keep doing that.
Sunderland versus Morecambe is not a fixture you come across very often.
In fact, the two sides have met just once before.
August 28th, 2012 was the first and last time Sunderland played our opponents this evening. This was a League Cup game, played in front of 22,871 at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland lined up with a strong side and came away 2-0 winners, with a brace from Irish winger James McClean settling the tie.
Sunderland: Westwood, Gardner, O’Shea, Bramble, Colback, Cattermole (Meyler, 78), Larsson, Johnson, McClean (Campbell, 73), Sessegnon, Fletcher (Saha, 66)
Jack Ross has had to make some tough decisions this season and a number of good players have been left on the fringe of the first team where league action is concerned. The Checkatrade Trophy has enabled Ross to tinker with his squad an offer a number of players game-time during the competition.
Sunderland will still be without a handful of first-teamers this evening, however. Duncan Watmore, Charlie Wyke, Ethan Robson and Denver Hume are all missing through injury, whilst Tom Flanagan, Benji Kimpioka and Bali Mumba are now away on international duty.
There are competition rules to avoid clubs fielding weakened teams but with the likes of Robbin Ruiter, Glenn Loovens, Max Power, Luke O’Nien, Josh Maja, Bryan Oviedo and Alim Öztürk available, Sunderland won’t be falling foul or incurring penalties.
It’s likely those seven will all start tonight. For some, like Ruiter and Öztürk, this competition has provided them with a regular start; tonight won’t be any exception. Max Power, Bryan Oviedo and Glenn Loovens are all in need of game time following their recent absences and assistant manager James Fowler has already hinted the trio will play tonight. Meanwhile, Josh Maja sat out the FA Cup tie at Port Vale and will be keen to get some minutes tonight.
Add in Luke O’Nien and the former Wycombe man will be desperate to put himself into contention for a start against his former side on Saturday. Having performed well of late, scoring at Shrewsbury and winning the penalty at Plymouth, O’Nien will be hoping to start the game at the Globe Arena. The midfielder has shown a calmness and a desire to play for the shirt in recent weeks and will deserve his chance tonight.
In October, Ross was able to start Ethan Robson and Benji Kimpioka, whilst Academy stars Jack Diamond and Lee Connelly both made an impression off the bench against Carlisle. With Robson still carrying an injury sustained in that game and Kimpioka away on international duty, both Diamond and Connelly will fancy their chances of being in the squad - perhaps even starting the game.
They are likely to be joined by some familiar faces from the Academy. Jake Hackett, Brandon Taylor and Jack Bainbridge were all around the pre-season squads, whilst Williams Kokolo and Jordan Hunter have caught the eye for the U23s this season.
Morecambe linger in 20th place in League Two, having lost ten of their seventeen league games. Following Carlisle’s EFL Trophy defeat on Wearside, Morecambe beat the Cumbrians in the league the following Saturday, but Jim Bentley’s side have only won once game since.
Successive 1-0 home defeats to Colchester and Mansfield followed their win at Brunton Park, before a 1-1 draw at Newport secured the Shrimps another point. A 2-1 home win over Yeovil in early November, and a 0-0 draw in the FA cup on Saturday means Morecambe enter the game tonight unbeaten in three.
Speaking after the cup-tie, and perhaps with one eye on this evening, Bentley said:
I’m disappointed, obviously, because it’s a home game and we wanted to win.
We had spoken about things, worked on things and, at times, we got it right and some of our football was good to watch.
If we tightened up the end product – when to pass, when to dribble, when to shoot – then we give ourselves a better chance
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Supporters can watch all of the action from Morecambe tonight, with the game being streamed live via the club’s official website.
The full range of options available to supporters based both in the UK and abroad can be found on SAFC.com.
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.