Sunderland travel to Fleetwood tonight where they play their third group stage match of this season’s Papa John’s Trophy. Both sides sit on six points in the table, having won their fixtures against Carlisle, and Aston Villa Under-21s.
Phil Parkinson’s side top the group through their superior goal difference, following their 8-1 demolition of Villa which saw top scorer Charlie Wyke score a brace. Joey Barton’s side beat Carlisle 3-1 and Villa 3-0, with five of their six goals coming from striker Harvey Saunders.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Fleetwood fan YouTuber Ben Knapman, to get on the lowdown on how Barton’s side have performed so far this season, as well as what Sunderland fans can expect from the match.
MC: Sunderland have never beaten Fleetwood Town since their relegation to League One. Why do you think Barton is always able to get the best out of his players against the Black Cats?
BK: I think Barton understands what it’s like to go to a big club, a big ground and master something. It’s always interesting when we play Sunderland, especially away from home. But I love it, it’s a challenge and especially when we’ve not lost, it’s been a great record.
MC: Fleetwood have been highly inconsistent so far this season and sit tenth in the League One table. Why has the club failed to capitalise on their playoff finish last season?
BK: We are 11 games in and we were in a similar position to this last season. We started off playing a lot of our under-18s, especially at the back. We’ve now brought Callum Connolly and Charlie Mulgrew in on loan and they’ve made a huge difference. I think we will kick on now.
MC: Barton made some impressive signings, securing the likes of Mulgrew and Mark Duffy, as well as re-signing Barrie McKay and Callum Connelly on loan. Which of your new signings have made the biggest impact so far?
BK: For me, it’s Callum Camps [signed from Rochdale]. We relied on two-three players for goals in previous years, now we have a threat from midfield that will score 10-15 per season. He’s a engine, a workhorse and great in front of goal. Camps has already scored four goals this season.
MC: Former Northern League striker Harvey Saunders has been on fire in the EFL Trophy, scoring five goals in just two games. Do you think he is a real prospect for Fleetwood?
BK: Yes I do! Saunders still has a lot to do and a lot to work on, but he’s making huge progress and is getting better week by week. He has a superb attitude and works hard on the pitch. That work ethos has been rewarded by the goals he has scored and the work he has put in the last 12-18 months is starting to pay off.
MC: Having said that, Saunders and Ched Evans were substituted against Hull at the weekend following injuries. Will they both be ruled out against Sunderland?
BK: I think so, although I think Barton wouldn’t have played them anyway. I feel we could make six to seven changes, giving minutes to those that need it and our young lads. It’s a good opportunity with us both being though already to do that.
MC: Many Sunderland fans have called for the inclusion of young prospects in the EFL Trophy. Do Fleetwood posses any academy graduates who you think have potential to become first-team players?
BK: I think we have a few. Jay Matate and Ryan Rydel have had a handful of games in the league and looked decent. Hopefully both will be involved on Tuesday.
MC: Both sides have already qualified from the group stage. Is the EFL Trophy one you would like to see Barton take seriously to try and deliver a trophy to Fleetwood?
BK: I want to win every game and Fleetwood have the squad depth to challenge in multiple competitions. Let’s see how the draw goes and then it’s game by game. Someone has to win it. Why not us?
MC: Sunderland are expected to reward some young players with first-team appearances. What line up do you think they’ll face?
BK: (4-3-3) - Cairns, Rydel, Boyes, Hill, Edwards, Rossitor, Duffy, Matate, Morris, Madden, S Morris.
MC: Sunderland have never won at the Highbury Stadium in a competitive fixture. What’s your honest prediction of the final score?
BK: 1-1. Sunderland to win on penalties.