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Starting XI: Much changed side expected for tonight’s Pizza Cup game

After a good three points on Saturday, and an important game against Oxford at the weekend, it’s likely Lee Johnson will shuffle the pack for tonight’s game.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images,

The lads came through a stern test on Saturday, and with a number of players out injured it’s unlikely Lee Johnson will risk anyone he views critically important tonight. It will, however, offer an opportunity for some of the young lads to impress, especially in the full-back/wing-back areas.

In truth, predicting this team correctly would be like getting the lottery spot on – but here we go!


Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson

Patterson was recalled from his loan spell at Notts County, where he was impressing, due to an injury to Lee Burge, and I expect he’ll be given the nod tonight. An impressive performance would see him put some pressure on first-choice Hoffmann, which is always a good thing.

Notts County v Solihull Moors - Vanarama National League
Patterson impressed at Meadow Lane
Photo by Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Defence: Kenton Richardson, Fred Alves, Arbenit Xhemajli, Cieran Dunne

Lee Johnson went to a back three (in a lopsided fashion) on Saturday, but we’ll likely go to a more familiar back four tonight. Forgotten man Fred Alves should be given 90 minutes to impress – one more injury in defence and he’s surely next in line – and Arbenit Xhemajli should also be given a start on his comeback trail. At fullback, Richardson and Dunne could be given a chance to stake a first team claim – Dunne was on the bench on Saturday and, although more of a midfielder, could do a job at fullback.

Sunderland v Aston Villa U21: EFL Trophy
Will Arbi get another run out?
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Midfield: Harrison Sohna, Elliot Embleton

Sohna has featured in a number of Papa John’s games this season, and with the news both Evans and O’Nien are out for the coming weeks/months, it’s a great opportunity for him to show Lee Johnson he’s ready for ‘proper’ first team action.

Alongside him, Elliot Embleton needs game time and could be deployed in a deeper position than he’s usually accustomed to as Johnson looks to get some relative experience in the centre of the pitch.

Sunderland v Manchester United U21 - Papa John’s Trophy
Sohna’s quietly impressed so far this season
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Attacking midfield: Ellis Taylor, Stephen Wearne, Aiden O’Brien

O’Brien’s slipped down the pecking order a little over recent weeks. He was almost transferred to Doncaster on deadline day, and it’d be no surprise to see him depart the club in January, so it’s a chance to impress both Lee Johnson and any watching scouts.

I’d expect Wearne to start the game in the central role – he impressed against Manchester United u-21s, scoring the winner, and he’s probably a little unfortunate to play in an area in which we have a number of options. I’d also expect Ellis Taylor to start the game, too – he’s another who’s been around the first time for league action, and will be hoping to make a step up sooner rather than later.

Sunderland v Manchester United U21 - Papa John’s Trophy
Wearne celebrates after netting the winner against Man Utd
Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Striker: Will Harris

After impressing at under 23 level, Will Harris was back on the first team bench last time out, and was the only player Johnson introduced – which is testament to the amount of trust the head coach evidently has in him. He’s a busy forward with an eye for goal, and a good performance here could really propel him into Johnson’s thinking as we head into a busy festive period.

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