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Roker Roundtable: BIG decision - do Sunderland go with their strongest possible squad tomorrow?

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What would you do tomorrow - would you pick the strongest available side or, like we’ve done in every other round, almost fully rotate the entire side in a bid to give our fringe players much-needed minutes?

Sunderland AFC

Q: Should Sunderland stick with their ‘best’ team for the game on Tuesday, or should Jack Ross continue to rotate his side and stick by the likes of Ruiter and Ozturk, who have played well in every round so far?

Damian Brown says...

We’d be bloody stupid not to stick with our best team.

A few weeks ago we were all deeply concerned that we wouldn’t make the play-offs. Now, with a fierce and concerted effort from the squad and the staff, we’re waiting for Luton to slip up so we can steal the top spot.

This is relevant to the conversation because not only can we now afford to take the risk of tiring some of our players for a few days, but we know first-hand the immediate benefits of short-term success.

We can appreciate the risk and what it’s worth, and it simply isn’t worth gambling it on players that can’t always be trusted to gain us 3 points, let alone a trophy. Yes we have players that need more game time, but the remaining games of this competition aren’t merely opportunities to stretch legs. Even then this decision goes beyond that.

A year ago if someone had told you that we’d have a renewed sense of identity as a club, a team putting 100% into the task on a weekly basis, and have the prospect of taking 40,000 to Wembley dangled in front of us like the fattest, most badass carrot conceivable, you’d have stepped over your old gran to get here. What man in his right mind could look at this cup final within his grasp and not reach out to snatch it with both hands?

There is no scenario in which we reach for the greatest height and come crashing down as a result. We will not have the Icarus moment. There is no “too close to the sun” for us this time. We have the means and the resolve to share - as fans and club - in something historic together.

The Checkatrade Trophy isn’t the most esteemed competition; we won’t be playing the best team in the land. Children outside of Sunderland’s sphere of influence will not speak of this monumental feat for years to come. But our enjoyment and our passion as fans isn’t defined by anyone else’s conception of what we have achieved.

There is nothing less than success awaiting us if we throw ourselves headlong into the task and bite and scratch and kick our way to a celebration that every single fan and staff member and player deserves after the years of neglect and disconnect. We deserve to win this competition, and to guarantee that we have a chance we must throw every ounce of strength into this penultimate charge.

Sunderland AFC

James Nickels says...

It’d be lovely for the fringe players to keep them in the line-up. A few, such as Ruiter, Ozturk, Mumba and more of the youngsters have performed very well during the course of the cup run - but in short, no.

They got us through, and thanks. But that was against lower league opposition and U21 sides. We may have defeated Bristol Rovers last week, but they’re no pushovers (and even beat Blackpool 4-0 on Saturday).

Now, with Wembley on the horizon, is the time to go all out.

You want to win at Wembley? You play your strongest squad. It might cause some of those fringe players to feel slightly dejected, but this is absolutely massive in keeping momentum up towards the business end of the year.

Beat Rovers & Pompey and come away with the EFL Trophy on the 31st March and that momentum and adrenaline would fuel us to automatic promotion - hopefully.

Play the strongest side possible. There is no other way around it.

Sunderland AFC

Mark Carrick says...

If, at seems likely, Jack Ross has made an agreement to play the likes of Ruiter and Ozturk in the EFL Trophy then I think he has to stick by that decision.

It doesn’t appear to be an opportunity to review these players for first team consideration but offer this competition as their only real opportunity for game-time. As a consequence these players have now earned the right to represent Sunderland throughout the competition.

Given the league game against Rovers last week Ruiter, Ozturk, etc would still represent a ‘strong’ side if not our ‘best’ team. Similarly offering game-time to Dylan McGeouch, Jack Baldwin, Denver Hume, Bali Mumba and Benji Kimpioka ensures players on the fringe of the first team have the chance to press their claims for a starting role in the league.

Ross has a second string at his disposal that should be more than enough to see Sunderland reach a Wembley cup final so trusting players who have got us this far should remain Ross’ priority for Tuesday.

Sunderland AFC

Neil Green says...

I’m torn on this, because I want to go to Wembley but at the same time I love to see new young players in these competition, and that’s before you even consider squad rotation, tiredness and keeping players happy.

Ruiter should start in goal as he’s done nothing wrong in the competition so far. Same goes for Ozturk, and as far as the rest of the defence goes it could be a chance to bring Matthews and Hume back in. Maybe Baldwin has had enough of a rest from his imposed absence recently too.

I think Ross will rest Cattermole and Leadbitter, with Power and McGeouch being more than able deputies. Bali Mumba has also played well in this competition and should be in the matchday squad at least.

In the attacking midfield I’d guess it might be time to give McGeady a rest, but keep him on the bench for emergency. Maybe a three of Gooch, Watmore and Morgan, with Kimpioka or even Kazaiah Sterling (remember him?) as outside chances.

Up front, I imagine Ross will stick with Grigg. For all that he’s contributed a lot, he could still do with another goal or two, and may be one of the first XI that still needs to bed in and get some momentum going to take into the league matches.

Wyke is an option, and it would be good for him to go back to Bristol and put right the misses from the league match, but I imagine he’ll start on the bench.

So, we could conceivably start the same XI as Saturday, or an entirely different XI, and there are arguments for both approaches. My guess would be Ross’s selection will be somewhere in the middle.