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Sunderland v Oldham Athletic - EFL Trophy

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No need to panic.... the Pizza Cup isn’t for us

“Losing to Oldham wasn’t great but in the long run, it’s probably for the best” says Jack Shields.

Photo by Eddie Garvey/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Okay... it was a bad result. If you lose to a team from the league below in a cup competition it can’t be anything else than a bad result.

It was a flat performance as well.

The Sunderland team that lost to Oldham Athletic played without a purpose, were laboured and really failed to build up a head of steam in the game.

Of course, you have to give credit to our visitors from Lancashire. They had plenty energy and intensity within the game and that was reflected in the winning goal. Harry Vaughan hassling and harrying our defence and then slotting calmly past Lee Burge.

My previous article referenced how I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to blood some young players. It was a win-win for me – on one hand, you get to wrap our first team in cotton wool and on the other give some younger, fringe players the chance to stake a claim in the first team.

Unfortunately, not many of them did.

Sunderland v Oldham Athletic - EFL Trophy
There wasn’t a great number of players who impressed on Wednesday
Photo by Eddie Garvey/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

But where there’s negative there’s usually a positive.

I really do think that we need to look at the bigger picture and realise the Papa John’s Trophy/Pizza Cup just isn’t for us.

Take 2020 out of the equation for a second. In both 2019 and 2021 we have had runs to Wembley in this trophy. We reached the final in 2019 (With fans there) and lost to Portsmouth on penalties. Last year we reached the final again (without fans there) and beat Tranmere Rovers to lift the cup. On both occasions however our league form tailed off.

Under Jack Ross, we only won one of our last seven matches towards the end of the season. We entered the playoffs out of form and then we know what happened in the final. Last season under Lee Johnson, we only won one of our last 8 matches and then failed in the semi-final against Lincoln City.

While I’m not completely blaming both runs to Wembley for our failure in the playoffs or our form tailing off, I certainly think they played a part.

Then there are the injuries we’ve got.

It’s well detailed that the number of players we have crocked leaves our team down to the bare bones. To list them takes a while: Luke O’Nien, Aiden McGeady, Jordan Willis, Denver Hume, Niall Huggins, Corry Evans and Dennis Cirkin are all out of action for the foreseeable future.

Sunderland v Cheltenham Town - Sky Bet League One
Huggins has been a big miss
Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

While should we have got through the youngsters may have featured in the latter stages of the competition, the temptation would have been to play the strongest team. That would have meant more fixtures and more opportunities to get injured.

Surely that’s not worth the risk, is it?

Not only that, there really isn’t much prestige in the tournament.

Let’s look at the rules. Younger players are encouraged, but not too many or you get a fine. Slightly bizarre. You can play a draw in the group stages for one point each, the match then goes to penalties and the winner gets an extra point... even more bizarre.

There’s the sponsorship of the tournament as well. The fact it’s been sponsored by a car comparison website, a trade comparison site and a takeaway pizza chain doesn’t do much for the reputation of it. Nobody will be shouting seriously about winning last year’s trophy unless they are severely inebriated.

If as expected, we lose to Arsenal in the Carabao Cup before Christmas, we then have no distractions and a solid run of league games to have a real fight to promotion.

Some fans will moan that they have missed out on a chance to be in the flesh to watch Sunderland win a trophy at Wembley. I understand we missed that last year and I also understand that seeing your team win at the national stadium is something our fans are desperately craving.

I feel, however, that you will get far more satisfaction from seeing Sunderland finish in the top two this season and finally gain promotion.

Losing to Oldham wasn’t great but in the long run, it’s probably for the best.


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