Sunderland head to Scunthorpe this evening for an EFL Trophy game that nobody really cares too much about, yet due to our current disposition as a League One club we’re forced to take these matches at least semi-seriously and, at worst, use them as an exercise to give players minutes who perhaps aren’t viewed in the eyes of our manager as ‘first choice’.
The majority of supporters are torn on what they actually hope we achieve tonight. In an ideal world we’d be clear of all cup fixtures, as our continued participation in competitions like the EFL Trophy are nothing more than a distraction from the fact that we have to place focus on getting ourselves promoted.
Like Sunderland, Scunthorpe have their own troubles. They’re in the midst of a relegation dogfight and whilst to some fans this may be a welcome distraction from the reality of their situation, they too must focus on achieving their goals - one of which I severely doubt is by achieving progression in the EFL Trophy. Yet, for both clubs tonight represents the opportunity to do just that.
For Phil Parkinson, this particular cup game represents a dilemma. Of course, we want to win every game we take part in, but adding further to our congested fixture list seems nonsensical at this stage. Having said that, there’s no getting away from the fact that his record since arriving on Wearside has been uninspiring at best.
With just two wins from seven games, adding another loss to that ever growing list will only further compound the misery and negativity surrounding the supporters at present, with his appointment splitting the fanbase in two when he was handed the job last month.
So what does he do? Does he take this game as seriously as he can, hoping to win, knowing that whilst achieving victory might lift spirits it will also ensure we play more games in a competition we really deep down don’t want to play a part in?
Or, does he pick a heavily rotated side knowing that whilst a loss will further depress supporters, long term it might benefit our quest for promotion if we fail to get past Paul Hurst’s struggling League Two side?
I know one thing - I’m not jealous of Parkinson or the situation he finds himself in.
Denver Hume and Lee Burge are both in contention to start after recovering from their respective issues, though the game will come too soon for injured duo Lynden Gooch and Charlie Wyke.
Jon McLaughlin, Conor McLaughlin and Tom Flanagan are on away on international duty and aren’t available for selection, so expect the holes left behind by them in the squad to be filled by U23s trio Anthony Patterson, Bali Mumba and Brandon Taylor.
Elliot Embleton remains Sunderland’s only long-term absentee, with the England U20 midfielder expected to be missing for another three months with a severe hamstring tear.
STARTING XI (4-2-3-1)
Burge; Hume, Lynch, Willis, O’Nien; Power, McGeouch; McGeady, Maguire, Watmore; McNulty. SUBS: Patterson, Mumba, Taylor, Grigg, Kimpioka, Leadbitter, Dobson.
As much as I don’t particularly want to see us win tonight, I think that we will. Scunthorpe are proper shite and if we can’t beat these, even with our second string (should Parky choose to rest players) then we might as well give everything up. McNulty is due a goal, as is Watmore, so I’ll go for a 2-0 Sunderland win, with the pair getting on the scoresheet.