It’s Papa John’s Trophy time again and for once it might actually be interesting as we look for clues on what direction new manager Lee Johnson is going to take the team. A change to a back four in his first game only hours after taking the job suggests he wants to put his stamp on the club as quickly as possible.
If it was difficult to predict how we would line-up under a manager who had been in charge for twelve months, so let’s give it a try with a manager who has had four days in the job.
I'd bet it's almost certain that Lee Johnson makes a change in goal with this cup game being a chance to see some of the players that didn't start on Saturday.
Although I have mentioned before that Antony Patterson should be given a chance to show he can compete with Sunderland’s two more experienced stoppers, former Bolton man Matthews was named on the bench on Saturday which means he’s first in line for a start if Lee Burge continues to be rested in this competition.
RB: Sanderson CB: Wright CB: Flanagan LB: McFadzean
In typical Sunderland fashion, just as Jordan Willis is nearing a return to fitness to strengthen the centre of defence both of our first choice full backs were injured in the same week.
Denver Hume’s hamstring injury on Saturday makes it likely that the changes at the back will come in both of the wide positions, with Dion Sanderson also a likely incomer after starting on the bench behind Conor McLaughlin on Saturday. McFadzean will replace Hume just as he did during Saturday’s game.
The next month or so is a good opportunity for Sunderland’s reserve full backs to shoe that they can pressure the starting players, and Sanderson especially will be keen to show it is he, not McLaughlin, who is O’Nien’s understudy.
RM: Diamond CM: Dobson CM: Neil LM: Embleton
It is in midfield where I’m expecting Lee Johnson to make the most changes for tonight’s match, mainly due to there being a lack of injuries to Sunderland’s squad players in this position.
It is likely that a cup game is a good opportunity for Johnson to try a four-man midfield, and that means that all of the five midfielders from Saturday’s game will miss out. In place of Power, Leadbitter and Scowen, Dobson and Neil are the two players who didn’t feature on Saturday and can be given the opportunity to stake a claim for a start in the upcoming league games.
Out wide, Jack Diamond and Elliot Embleton both possess more pace and directness than Maguire and McGeady who played against Wigan, and these attributes are vital for a manager who places as much emphasis on verticality and attacking transitions as Lee Johnson.
ST: Wyke ST: Graham
If the directness and youthful exuberance of Diamond and Embleton is chalk, then a strike force of Danny Graham and Charlie Wyke is most certainly cheese. However, Wyke was talked up by Sunderland’s new gaffer yesterday and these cup games give the opportunity to start players returning from injury, even if they would only get half an hour in a league game.
Danny Graham was completely anonymous yet again on Saturday, but since Will Grigg started and Aiden O’Brien missed out he is the next man in line to start tonight in what looks like being a heavily rotated team. The most striking thing about this front two, is that it highlights just how much Sunderland are lacking some pace in their forward line despite fans knowing this was a deficiency for the last decade or so.