Sunderland face League Two side Carlisle United in the EFL Trophy tonight at the Stadium of Light. It will be the second time the teams have faced one another this season, after Phil Parkinson’s men beat the Cumbrians 3-1 in pre-season.
The Black Cats are currently top of Northern Group A, following their 8-1 victory over Aston Villa under-21s last month. Contrastingly, Carlisle sit third after losing their opening fixture 3-1 against Joey Barton’s Fleetwood.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Carlisle fan and SciSports writer Harry Ewbank to discuss how his team have begun their 2020/21 campaign, and what Sunderland can expect to face.
MC: Carlisle have reached the EFL Trophy final six times, more than any other club - what are the reasons behind your club’s repeated success within this competition?
HE: Carlisle have only spent one season outside the third and fourth division since the tournament’s induction so they have been pretty much a constant in it. They first reached the final in 1995 when flying high and winning the Fourth Division so it was almost a party precession with thousands of Cumbrian’s getting their first ever day out at Wembley.
Two years later we went in as favourites and won on penalties and the love affair with the competition was rife from then on. For me the 2011 victory is my highest point as a fan so I held it in very high regard.
MC: After losing to Fleetwood, Carlisle will be the underdog candidate to qualify from the group - do you think manager Chris Beech will put a strong team out to try and beat Sunderland?
HE: I don’t expect the line-up to be a second-string team whatsoever, however, a blend of starters and those who haven’t kickstarted yet this season would be most likely. Gime Touré returned from injury and was the most exciting player at the weekend, he may be rested for this one.
I would expect Chris Beech to bring in Danny Devine, Joe Riley and Gavin Reilly - all players who might have been expected to have more of an impact so far. Goalkeeper Magnus Norman is ready for a return from injury.
MC: Carlisle finished 18th in League Two last season - what are the fans’ aspirations for the club this season?
HE: Undoubtedly most of the fanbase expect a lot better than last season’s showing. For the majority it was a pretty dreadful campaign both on and off the pitch at times and what was a weak squad on the whole both physically and mentally has been pretty much cleared out.
A lot of youth has been added this season with signings that have lifted spirits and excited fans. It will be a learning process, although they haven’t got to a fast start I am sure a solid mid table finish is more than doable and would be a good return in my opinion as things stand.
MC: Beech’s team are yet to score a goal away from home this season in all competitions, why do you think the teams home and away form is so contrasting?
HE: The away form did become a problem throughout last season and at the start of this one, nonetheless I don’t think it can be looked into too deeply.
Carlisle do play with more of a freedom on their own turf, but in all truth the home wins so far against Southend and Barrow have been against opposition where I fully expected the win.
MC: Carlisle’s new striker Gavin Reilly was strongly linked with joining Sunderland during Jack Ross’ tenure in charge - how has he performed so far?
HE: I am yet to see much of Reilly in the games I have watched but he hasn’t got the nod in league so far, coming on for just over 40 minutes between three sub appearances.
I’d fully expect to see him start at the Stadium of Light as he needs the game time, and he completed 90 minutes against Fleetwood in the first set of group fixtures.
MC: Considering Sunderland is one the closest clubs Carlisle will face this season, is it frustrating that no fans will be allowed to enter the stadium?
HE: Yes and no. It’s a game that has pulled a large away following from both sides at the Stadium of Light and Brunton Park in the last decade in the League Cup.
However, I’m afraid many Carlisle fans have turned their backs on this competition in the last few years due to its new format so I wouldn’t expect it to disappoint too many onlookers.
MC: Who are the Carlisle players who you believe can cause Sunderland problems during the match?
HE: As I mentioned earlier, Gime Toure has been a breath of fresh air when he has played and is a menace with his pace and flare on the wing or in attack. Whether he will play remains to be seen, though.
Young Preston loanee Ethan Walker recently deputised and has started the last two games and he has looked full of confidence on the left-hand side.
MC: Who are the eleven Carlisle players you predict Chris Beech will select against Sunderland, and what style of play can Parkinson’s team expect to face?
HE: (4-3-3) Norman, Tanner, Hayden, McDonald, Anderton, Devine, Mellish, J. Riley, Walker, G.Reilly, Alessandra.
It’s hard to tell how many changes will be made in the cup but I would expect Chris Beech to bring in Danny Devine, Joe Riley and Gavin Reilly - all players who might have been expected to have more of an impact so far. Goalkeeper Magnus Norman is ready for a return from injury.
Sunderland should expect United to work the ball wide and to look for the creativity from the likes of Ethan Walker, plus Jon Mellish is a danger coming into the box as he proved on Saturday against Barrow - he is a player Chris Beech has stuck with after moving from centre-back into the midfield.
MC: Sunderland beat Carlisle 3-1 the last time the two clubs met competitively, what is your prediction of the final score tonight?
HE: I think Carlisle have every chance to cause an upset if they put their mind to it and Sunderland have bigger priorities, but without a league game to focus on this weekend it will probably help the home side.
I think Carlisle could grab a score draw. 1-1.