Sunderland host League Two side Notts County this evening as we enter the knockout stages of the Checkatrade Trophy.
In the last round of games against Morecambe, also of League Two, Jack Ross changed the whole team and awarded debuts and game-time to a host of academy stars and fringe players.
Could Ross be similarly minded tonight, or is the fact we’re now into one-off games enough to suggest Sunderland need to approach the game with as strong a squad as possible?
Assistant manager James Fowler met the Press yesterday afternoon to give us an insight.
The (Assistant) Gaffer said...
We expect to win the game. I think that’s the demands at this club - it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we want to win the game.
It’s an opportunity for players that maybe haven’t had much game time recently. We’ve got one or two players coming back from injury and some of the younger ones will get an opportunity to play. We believe we’ve got good players here within the club, within the whole squad, within the Under 23’s, so hopefully they show that tomorrow night, because we’re going to need them in the league games coming up.
We’ve got a really busy schedule. It will also allow the manager to see them in that environment.
Duncan will be part of the squad, so we’ll be looking to get him some game time tomorrow on his road back from his injury. What we’ve seen previously from Duncan in the games that we’ve had and in training, we’re really excited to have him back in the first-team environment.
Bali Mumba is somebody who missed out last time. He’ll be starting the game tomorrow, so we look forward to seeing him play.
It’s important for the club, the fans and the players as a whole to win these games and progress through the competition and looking to try to get to Wembley for the final.
Sunderland v Notts County is a fixture that dates back two centuries to 1890. In fact, the two sides have met 87 times, and it’s almost a 50-50 split in terms of results. Sunderland have won 32 times to County’s 30, whilst there have been 25 draws.
During those encounters we have met Notts County eleven times in cup competition. During eight FA Cup ties, Sunderland have won five, drawing two and losing only once. In addition, the two sides have met in the League Cup, when County won 2-1, the Zenith Data Systems Cup, when the sides drew 2-2, and this, the Football League Trophy, back in 2016.
In fact, that encounter was the last time these sides met - a 2-1 home win for Sunderland was secured by a goal from a certain Josh Maja. Only 633 hardy souls turned out for that encounter. It is hoped for a few more tonight.
James Fowler has hinted at a number of fringe players and Academy stars playing tonight. The likes of Jack Bainbridge, Benji Kimpioka, Jake Hackett and Jack Diamond may have come into contention. All four have made positive impressions during this tournament and will be keen to provide further evidence of progression tonight.
One Academy star who will start is Bali Mumba. The teenager has made quite a splash this season and will be given another run-out following his FA cup appearance at the weekend. Such is the trust in Mumba that he is already seen as one of Sunderland’s brightest talents.
Hoping to join him will be Luke O’Nien, who has impressed in recent weeks. With the likes of Lee Cattermole, Dylan McGeough and George Honeyman returning from injury soon, O’Nien will welcome the chance to start tonight’s game and continue his good form.
Fringe players such as Glenn Loovens, Alim Öztürkand Robbin Ruiter will no doubt be called upon once more. Even Bryan Oviedo, who has lost his place in the league side, will be looking forward to starting the game this evening.
For one player, though, tonight’s match is a huge milestone. For Duncan Watmore to play some part in tonight’s proceedings will be another step on his road to full recovery. Having suffered two very serious injuries, the comeback has been a hard one, but tonight marks a major checkpoint for the youngster. Such will be the support he recieves, from both teammates and fans, that this will be a special game for him.
New County manager Neil Ardley is looking forward to tonight’s game. Having only joined the club in late November, the former Wimbledon midfielder is still assessing his squad and trying to take the club up the league.
Currently sitting 23rd in League Two and in the relegation places, Ardley is County’s third manager this calendar year. Kevin Nolan started the year in post, having been appointed in January 2017, before Harry Kewell took over in August. Lasting barely four months, the Australian was replaced as County sought to address their decline.
Two draws in his only two games to date is a start for Ardley, and he knows the club have a big game at sixth-place Mansfield Town on Saturday. Yet the County manager is aware that he has to use tonight’s game as another opportunity to learn about his new team:
We need to learn how to win games so I’m not going to be resting people and bringing in the kids.
We want to get a good look at people ahead of Mansfield [at the weekend].
The main thing is to learn more about this squad and bring some positivity and belief back into the group.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
For those who haven’t yet secured a ticket, entry is available this evening to the East Stand this evening, with turnstiles open from 6.30pm.
The game will also be streamed on SAFC.com, with match passes £10 for UK based supporters and £5.99 for those overseas.
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.