Much like Lionel Hutz’s case against the National Council of Churches, Sunderland’s Checkatrade Trophy third round game against Newcastle United Under-21s is very “oh right, that thing”. There was an eye-rolling inevitability that the two would be paired with each other in this competition that bore an obvious eventuality from the moment our demotion to League One was confirmed.
Our neighbours from up the road are getting awfully excited about the whole affair, with a prominent fanzine editor decrying Sunderland’s unwillingness to grant their giddy supporters more tickets.
We could hypothesise that our Geordie brethren are just really into the Checkatrade Trophy and the 1,126 attendance figure published for their previous round against Macclesfield Town was merely a typo. Maybe they’ve taken a keen interest in the development of their academy players and definitely aren’t going to spend the evening ripping out seats and singing about Adam Johnson - who knows!
We probably divvent undastaand, or something like that.
Both Sunderland and Newcastle have been in good form in this competition, boasting unbeaten records in the group stages. The Lads swept aside Notts County in the last round while Newcastle dumped Sol Campbell’s Macclesfield out on penalties.
Jack Ross says...
That is a consequence of us having suffered relegations, that is the soreness when a fixture like this comes around.
The drive for me is to take the club back into these fixtures properly. This isn’t a derby that is seen as the one that everybody would want it to be.
It gives us the extra motivation that I will be able to manage Sunderland in a league game against Newcastle, ideally in the top league.
Genuinely for me this is just another Checkatrade Trophy match. It falls in between two really busy league games. Players have treated every Checkatrade Trophy game in the same way and this will be no different.
Of all the games this campaign, this is the one that will have been giving Jack Ross the biggest selection headache. The Scot has reiterated his stance that Newcastle Under-21s should be treated as any other Checkatrade Trophy opponent, but he will be aware of the ramifications should Sunderland slip up against our beloved neighbours.
Ross will also have one eye on the massive fixture against Luton Town this weekend, so he could revert to the blend of youth and experience that has served him well during the Checkatrade Trophy campaign. There are no fresh injury concerns from the 1-1 draw at Charlton Athletic, but Lee Cattermole remains unavailable due to suspension.
Robbin Ruiter is expected to return in goal and there could be starts for Alim Öztürk in defence, Bali Mumba in midfield while Ross could be tempted to trial the partnership of Duncan Watmore and Charlie Wyke up front.
View From the Opposition Dressing Room
Amid the shouting at shops, berating an owner and fawning over a manager who routinely says how rubbish the first-team players are, Newcastle’s under-21s have been pottering along quite nicely.
Currently sitting fifth in Premier League 2, they have lost just once since October - a 2-1 defeat to Southampton in mid-December. The young Magpies have excelled in the Checkatrade Trophy, winning all three of their group games including an impressive 3-1 away victory at Doncaster Rovers.
Manager Ben Dawson is awaiting confirmation on the availability of Sean Longstaff and Jamie Sterry. The pair played in the competition earlier in the season, but have since been included in Rafa Benitez’s first-team squad. Both started in Newcastle’s 1-1 draw with Blackburn Rovers on Saturday, but could feature at the Stadium of Light.
Speaking after the Rovers draw, Longstaff told the Evening Chronicle:
I’m not sure [if he’ll play against Sunderland] to be honest, I need to ask the staff. It will be up to them. If I don’t play I will be going to watch it anyway as my brother Matty will be playing. If I end up playing on the pitch with him I will do what I am asked.
It will be a tough game for the lads but you never know what can happen in a one-off cup game. We will be the underdogs at the Stadium of Light but it will be a great day all round.
The lads will enjoy the experience and hopefully we can cause an upset.
One player that most likely will play on Tuesday is Denmark youth international Elias Sørensen. The Dane has been in sparkling form for the Magpies, scoring 19 goals in all competitions so far.
Last Time We Met
Funnily enough, Sunderland have never previously had the ignominy of playing Newcastle’s academy side in a competitive fixture.
The respective under-23 teams faced off last week, with Newcastle running out 3-2 winners at the Academy of Light. Goals from Oliver Walters, Sørensen and Rosaire Longelo gave the visitors the victory despite Sunderland initially leading 2-0 earlier in the game.