Goalkeeper: Robbin Ruiter
Jack Ross has confirmed that the club are approaching this game as just another Checkatrade Trophy match, and is not seeing this as normal Wear-Tyne encounter. With that in mind, his regular choice of goalkeeper is likely to continue within the competition. Max Stryjek has returned from his loan spell at Eastleigh and may find a place on the bench tonight, but it is Robbin Ruiter who will no doubt be named as number one.
Ruiter has been consistent in the competition and has performed well. Tonight will be another test for the Dutchman, and with our neighbours from Newcastle visiting the Stadium of Light a bit of extra spice will undoubtedly be added to the fixture.
However, we must remember that this is their U21 side and the home side will be looking to win the fixture. Ruiter will be keen to ensure he keeps a clean sheet in order that Sunderland may find themsleves a step closer to a Wembley cup-final appearance.
Defence: O’Nien, Flanagan, Öztürk, James
Jack Bainbridge is one of the Academy players to benefit from game-time in this tournament, but a hamstring injury sustained in the U23 fixture with tonight’s opponents will rule him out. Fellow Academy defender Jordan Hunter started in an earlier round against Morecambe and was on the bench for last month’s game against Notts County, so could be involved again this evening.
However, there has always been a strong feel to the defence in this competition. Jack Ross has selected Adam Matthews, Denver Hume, Reece James, Bryan Oviedo, Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin, Glenn Loovens and Alim Öztürk across previous rounds.
Despite Matthews, Love, Hume, Oviedo, Bainbridge and Loovens all out injured, there will be another strong line-up named this evening. Alim Öztürk has been a regular in the Checkatrade this season and will likely be given game-time again tonight. His inclusion offers Baldwin or Flanagan the opportunity of a rest before the crucial league game against Luton Town at the weekend.
In the full-back roles, Reece James and Luke O’Nien may be required to start tonight in the absence of alternatives. Both players will be keen to keep a clean sheet and take that form into Saturday’s tough league game.
Midfield: McGeough & Mumba
Bali Mumba came into the side against Notts County last month and partnered Dylan McGeough in central midfield. That pairing is available tonight and could Jack Ross’ preferred pairing. With Lee Cattermole suspended and Max Power being afforded a rest ahead of the weekend, the Mumba-McGeough partnership remains a strong one.
Mumba has league experience and is very highly-rated for one so young. His calmness and composure has been in evidence whenever called upon this season. Dylan McGeough was perhaps our best midfielder at the weekend and will look to maintain his form both tonight and on Saturday.
Forwards: Sinclair, Watmore, Kimpioka, Diamond
In his press conference, Jack Ross alluded to the fact that his team selection will take into account those players who need game-time tonight. Ross mentioned Duncan Watmore specifically, but Jerome Sinclair is another who would fall into this category.
Both strikers need competitive action, but for different reasons. Watmore’s recovery has been well-managed by Jack Ross’ team and tonight could be another step towards full match fitness. For Sinclair, an opportunity to impress could force him into Jack Ross’ thinking for league action and may be timely with uncertainty surrounding Josh Maja’s future at the club. Having scored in the last round, the Watford loanee will be hoping for another goal this evening.
Alongside them, Benji Kimpioka is an exciting forward who has already made his mark upon this competition. The young Swede started and scored against Carlisle back in October before coming off the bench to win the decisive penalty against Notts County. Since then, Kimpioka has been involved with the league squad and was on the bench as recently as New Year’s Day. The prospect could very well have staked a claim to start again this evening.
Academy stars Jake Hackett and Jack Diamond will come into contention again this evening alongside Luke Molyneux, who will be available following his loan spell at Gateshead. Both Hackett and Diamond have featured heavily in the competition to date, starting against Morecambe and emerging from the bench last month against Notts County. Diamond’s strong showing for the U23s this past weekend against tonight’s opponents culminated in a stunning goal and this may give him the edge tonight.