Despite Saturday’s league game being cancelled due to international call ups, apparently, even the EFL accept that tonight’s competition is so beneath serious sporting competition that different rules apply and we have to play regardless.
The team that played last week’s cup game against Lincoln is probably a good starting point for trying to guess tonight’s starting lineup. Jordan Willis, Nathan Broadhead and probably Lynden Gooch will all miss out with injuries, but Arbenit Xhemajli got some minutes under his belt for the under 23s over the first team’s free weekend, so he could be in line to make a return to the senior side tonight.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
Due to his position as second choice ‘keeper, Lee Burge will probably need to resign himself to picking up minutes in the cup competitions for the rest of the season.
However, the former Coventry stopper may be seeking a move away in January to get more first team football - allowing Anthony Patterson to take his place as the backup option to Thorben Hoffmann - so the cup games will provide an opportunity for Burge to put himself in the shop window for any League One clubs in need of a number one.
RB: Younger CB: Alves CB: Xhemajli LB: Hume
With Sunderland’s entire starting back four away on international duty, we can expect to see another young back four for tonight’s cup game.
One addition to the backline could be Arbenit Xhemajli, who would be making his first senior start for a year after he suffered a season-ending injury just as he was on the cusp of making it into Phil Parkinson’s back three.
With Alves and Hume both very much in the first team plans, they’re both likely to start in order to build their match fitness for more important challenges ahead. This means that either Kenton Richardson or Ollie Younger would need to make way for Xhemajli’s introduction, and although Richardson is a natural full back, I can see Younger being moved to a wider area since he is the man closer to a first team start.
CM: Neil CM: Sohna
With Winchester and Evans both away on international duty, and Luke O’Nien picking up an injury during last week’s win at Lincoln, Neil and Sohna are the only two players who are in with a decent shout of starting in the middle of the park this evening.
If Luke O’Nien’s injury turns out to be a bad one, Sohna could find himself playing a rotation role in the first team squad, especially since one of O’Nien’s potential replacements is Winchester who has established himself at fullback during the beginning of the season.
Both Neil and Sohna will be looking to put in a good performance tonight in order to increase their playing time in the upcoming league games.
RM: Taylor AM: Pritchard LM: O’Brien
Sunderland actually has options in the attacking midfield positions, with Lynden Gooch possibly being able to make the bench, and Elliot Embleton also an option if Lee Johnson wants to pick a side closer to full strength.
However, the three attacking players that started at Lincoln remain the most likely starters for tonight’s game. Alex Pritchard is coming to the end of his mini preseason after he joined in with training a few weeks after the rest of the squad. Embleton’s good start to the season has limited the diminutive midfielder’s playing time so far, but he should be ready to make a real impact from this point forward.
Aiden O’Brien is a typical cup player, who is dependable enough to do a job whenever a few players are missing but doesn’t set the world alight. He may lose his place when the league action restarts, but it makes sense to keep the former Millwall man’s fitness levels up for the time being.
Elis Taylor, like Younger and Sohna further back in the pitch, is another youngster who will be looking to learn a lot from his first senior appearances. Taylor was rated highly enough to feature a few times in preseason and to be given a squad number. He and the other young players will be looking to impress enough to find a good loan move in January if not sooner.
With Stewart likely to be rested and Broadhead injured, young centre forward Will Harris is the man to lead the line tonight. Broadhead’s injury has created a slight opening for Harris to impress in and around the first-team squad, and the group stages of this competition could be the perfect opportunity for the young attacker to get a feel for senior football.