Q: Sunderland now don’t have a league game for a couple of weeks. Tonight we face Leicester U21s in the EFL Trophy, whilst Gillingham await on Saturday in the FA Cup. Just how seriously should we take both games?
Damian Brown says...
It depends on your definition of serious.
Parkinson’s priority right now is forging the group of players he has into a good team. The players’ priority is to learn his instructions by rote and follow them to the letter on the pitch. Ignoring the cup matches would be ignoring opportunities to implement these improvements. Teams in general don’t get better without playing time.
Of course there’s always the risk of injuries on the horizon, and the last thing Sunderland needs is another injured player. In that sense, caution would be the order of the day, but for me that should only be to the extent of protecting certain players through intelligent selection and substitution. Half of the squad may be capable of running for 90 minutes, but they’re nowhere near optimal levels of fitness. Even if it’s for that reason alone, Parkinson can’t ignore the chance to get some game time in those legs and heads.
As equally possible as a spate of injuries that impact our league campaign is the chance to enjoy the festive nature of a tournament by actually winning something. Sunderland are an underdog in any fight right now, and the morale boost of a battling cup challenge can be a powerful tool in a club’s repertoire.
When all is said and done I think showing anything other than some courage and passion for the badge, regardless of our league fortunes, is never a worthless endeavour. The additional fitness and fluidity that every extra minute on the pitch brings is merely a welcome addition.
Matty Crichton says...
Sunderland should play to win in every game.
We have a squad of 23+ players who could all benefit from healthy competition and a chance to impress Phil Parkinson.
After losing 3 out of his 5 first games (including Oxford on penalties) I think Parkinson needs a run of consecutive wins to obtain the confidence of both the fans and his playing squad.
Realistically, even a much changed Sunderland squad of senior pros with a few younger players should be able to beat Leicester’s youngsters, who will all lack senior experience.
With regard to Gillingham, every football fan enjoys an FA Cup run. It would provide pivotal revenue for the club, plus it allows fans the chance to visit grounds or witness teams they haven’t seen before/for a long time.
Not taking these matches seriously would potentially prevent the team from developing a much-needed winning mentality within the group. Also, it’s not like when Liverpool favour the Premier League/Champions League over the League Cup. Sunderland actually have a very strong chance of winning the EFL Trophy and I personally would love to see our club lift the trophy, regardless of it being at this level.
Tom Albrighton says...
Whilst sceptical of both the necessity and distraction provided by some token cup runs, there is also a need for Parkinson so get some wins on the board.
The weekend was a properly drab affair - like going to your cousin’s wedding despite not really getting on with them and pretending to be happy for them, when all you really want is to have a pint and f*ck off home. Aside from the Tranmere game, most of Parkinson’s games in charge have followed in the same vein, so much so you can already feel the apathy building in the stands, none more so than on Saturday.
These two cup games give Parkinson a great chance to really stamp his name on this side. Firstly, an inexperienced junior side will be a foe which should, with all respect, be swept aside should Parkinson decide to play a full-strength team. After all, the lower league jobbers cup may be our best chance of seeing Sunderland lift any kind of trophy in our lifetime.
Alternatively, we welcome Gillingham a week later in the FA Cup first round. A bonus of the FA Cup is naturally the fact that the big boys play in it, meaning we can hope for a third-round dream tie at home to Premier League high-flyers Wolves, which means one thing - dollar dollar bills, ya’ll. It may be wise then for Parkinson to take a visit from some fellow League One dossers seriously in the name of cold hard cash, as well as developing some much-needed confidence.
Essentially, none of this really matters as much as we care to think, whilst two wins would be a wonderful tonic to recent showings, failure to win in the league the following week would render the cup results before that null and void. Whilst wins are welcome, the league is all that matters. That said when we lose, you can be assured there’ll be a meltdown.
Ultimately then, Parkinson is doomed regardless, win these two games and the confidence the side can develop will sharply be contrasted by last season’s demon - the dreaded fixture pile up. Conversely, losing both fixtures would further mount pressure on Parkinson whose early form would then become a cause for concern, despite three of those games not mattering one iota. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.