This game is a totally different prospect given the way that the last week has panned out, both in terms of recent results and our growing injury list.
When we recorded the podcast this week I joked that nobody really cares about this game, but I was only half-serious - I actually think this could be a useful exercise, but perhaps not just for sticking out a bunch of kids and seeing how we do.
We need momentum and that means winning this game is fairly important - and despite the fact I don’t think winning the EFL Trophy again is a priority for Sunderland, I’d still secretly deep down like us to win it again.
I expect Lee Johnson to make changes, but I just hope he doesn’t make wholesale changes, as some of the starters from the weekend would benefit from gathering momentum almost as much as the team as a whole.
Alex Pritchard, for instance, is just hitting his stride - and against a crap League Two team, keeping his confidence high could benefit us long term.
Similarly, Ross Stewart needs goals. I’d actually start him with Will Harris, who also deserves a proper chance.
Yes, there are kids in the squad who deserve a chance to impress, but I’d still be sensible and mix it up, treating the competition with some level of respect to also send a message to the players that we need to make winning a habit.
Andrew Smithson says...
I know I am in the minority, but I enjoy these Papa John’s games and I like how Johnson has approached them so far. Whether he has used them to test fringe players or give senior players some minutes on the pitch he has always had the team organised and looking like they are taking it seriously.
I’m expecting him to have the same attitude on Wednesday as hopefully another victory will help that winning mentality keep building back up again, but we do still need to use it as a testing ground ahead of some important league fixtures.
If Gooch and Dajaku are going to be used in what are still unfamiliar positions in the coming weeks I’d like them to get a chance to learn the roles a bit more and then with about an hour gone would want them taken off to keep them fresh for Saturday.
We can make up to five substitutions in these ties now so the option to do that is there. Johnson has said in the past that he was considering using Alves in midfield so I would like to see that as well; we are struggling for numbers in the centre and if it turns out he is a natural it would be a real bonus.
Another player I hope features is Xhemajli; in the past, we have seen players rushed back too quickly but the club appears to be handling his rehabilitation very well, and it would be nice to see him build on his initial promise. He has had an awful time of it so might appreciate playing in front of a crowd at the stadium.
Having said all of that, it would be a shame if there weren’t any opportunities given to the U23s squad as well, as they will see the number of injuries at first-team level and want to show they can step up.
None of them have let themselves down so far, so have earned another go anyway. Younger has always done a job in league games, Sohna looks like the type of player we could do with and Wearne seems to have something about him.
There are others too, and I’ve liked what I have seen from Taylor and Harris, so Johnson has plenty of options and can put a strong side out however he decides to play it.
Gary Engel says...
Our growing injury list is a huge concern for Lee Johnson and will be in the forefront of his thinking going into the match with Oldham.
We need to take every match seriously, and instead of thinking of it so much as fielding a side of youngsters, this is a massive chance for the younger lads to play their way into contention. There are some large voids in Sunderland’s line-up following the injuries sustained recently. One or two of the lads that start on Wednesday can show they’re ready for the first team and it could prove a massive boost in the circumstances.
Players like Harris and Dyce already have growing reputations, but need match minutes to forge a clear path to more chances in league games, while showing Johnson what they can add to the starting eleven.
Apart from our early exit from the FA Cup a few weeks ago, our cup form has been quite remarkable. Not least, that is down to our young guns who have played exceptionally well. It’s likely we will test the market for free transfers in the coming weeks, but urgency could depend on how well our young lads perform on Wednesday night.
Malc Dugdale says...
I don’t think the coach will take the game seriously enough to risk first-choice players much (if at all), and with the injury crisis we have especially at the back, he would be mad to take any level of unnecessary risk at all.
I think Lee should approach the game like any other, in that if we can carry on winning that would be ideal for morale and confidence especially after losing to Mansfield in the other cup (again).
It is the ideal opportunity to put young lads like Wearne, Taylor, Sohna and Harris into the starting eleven though, to build or add to their case for a spot on the league bench between now and January. More importantly, players like Dyce and Younger have an ideal opportunity to show what they can do to support our defensive challenges.
Younger has already broken into the first team before now, but with the direction heading towards three defenders at the back with wing backs, this could be a great time for both to stake a claim, especially Dyce who has done well recently for the younger teams.
Also with midfield players covering at wing back, second and third choice midfielders may get a look in too, while their senior reps gain much-needed rest before yet another key league match at the weekend.