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Tuesday was a sideshow - what happens on Saturday is more important for Sunderland

We all wanted the Lads to win on Tuesday, but the team selection reflected how seriously we took it, so the result came as no surprise. Ultimately, getting prepared for a huge game on Saturday takes priority!

Sunderland v Oldham Athletic: Papa John’s Trophy Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I want us to win every game we play in - we all do. And I don’t like losing, but I didn’t find myself getting angry about losing to Oldham in the Pizza Cup on Tuesday. When the full-time whistle blew, I sighed, shrugged my shoulders, and moved on pretty quickly.

I reckon I might have been more bothered if we had fielded a full-strength side, because that way there are more concerns over our inability to put away a poor League Two team, but the fact we basically picked an U23s team with the addition of some fringe players - some of them playing out of position - just meant I wasn’t that fussed about the end result.

Winning is a good habit to get into, but this particular game was a step too far for a very young Sunderland team, one that lacked cutting edge and creativity in attack.

The Oldham goal itself came as the result of an error by a young player, one who has just come back from a pretty lengthy lay-off due to injury, and after the ninety minutes, they just weren’t good enough to win. It happens. It’s no big deal.

We should be disappointed, because having a strong winning mentality is what will eventally carry this club back to its rightful place in the English football pyramid, but I also accept that we will occasionally lose games.

In truth, the fact we are out of this particular competition feels like a weight off, and I imagine deep down that’s how it feels to our manager.

Sunderland v Oldham Athletic - EFL Trophy Photo by Eddie Garvey/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Whilst I’d love to see my team win at Wembley in person at some point, I’m also pretty strong in my view - like most fans - that our main focus this season needs to be on promotion.

One of the biggest obstacles in our way right now is the collective fitness of our squad, and the inclusion of extra games in our calendar is just another thing for Lee Johnson to think about - which is why he’s leant heavily on the U23s for these EFL Trophy fixtures.

I feel the same about the Arsenal game in the quarter finals of the League Cup, too - it’s a bit of a free hit. If we somehow get through, great. If we get twatted, then who cares? They’re a top Premier League side, they’re the big favourites, and we’ve already made it further than any other EFL club. That’s a huge achievement in itself.

Ultimately, what happens on Saturday is more important than anything else.

Oxford are right up there with us, and beating them would further strengthen our credentials as one of the top sides in the league.

Put it this way - a win could, if results go our way, put us joint top with Rotherham.

That’s a huge carrot to dangle in front of our first team players, and most likely why Lee Johnson opted to drop almost everyone that will be involved from the start when Karl Robinson and his side roll into town.

Keeping those players fresh and giving them a week to properly prepare for what is a huge game was clearly a priority for the Sunderland head coach, who knows we’re going to be tested at the weekend against an Oxford side who always give us a good game.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
LJ kept the big boys out of his plans on Tuesday - and with good reason
Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

The schedule recently has been hectic - you’d have to go back to the start of October to find the last time LJ had a full week on the training ground with his best players.

Playing every Saturday and Tuesday, plus having to work around international breaks, has limited the amount of time we’ve had to rest, recover and then work on our game.

That said, whatever the case may be this weekend, there can be no excuses when it comes to what we’ve been able to do on the training pitch, because all of our fit players have been in training every day, taking part in recovery and team analysis sessions, as well as working on shape and tactics to a level we probably haven’t been able to simply due to lack of time.

I’m not going to dwell on what happened on Tuesday night at all.

It’s ultimately unimportant and I’ll probably forget about it almost as quickly as it happened, particularly once Saturday’s huge league game has played out, and we have a better idea of where we are headed going into an incredibly hectic month.

Each to their own, I suppose.

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