Despite going one-nil down early in the game, Sunderland put in a promising performance in their comeback win against Wigan on the opening day.
All the talk before the match was on Sunderland’s frailties at full-back, and of Wigan’s supposed title challenge due to their strong transfer market comprised mainly of signing players who have failed to get promoted out of league one for the past three years.
It remains the case that Sunderland are in need of more signings before the end of the window, but any potential deals are unlikely to be completed before tonight’s quasi-friendly in the League Cup, even if Dennis Cirkin’s arrival from Spurs should be done before the weekend.
On the injury front, Carl Winchester limped off at the weekend which means Lee Johnson will have to find another player to fill in at right-back for tonight’s game, whilst Alex Pritchard made his first appearance in the squad after illness and should get some minutes in the legs tonight.
I guess right on Saturday, so here’s how I think the Lads will line up as they look to make it two out of two.
With Lee Burge starting in the league on Saturday, I fully expect Anthony Patterson to be given the chance to put pressure on the Sunderland number one by starting tonight’s game.
Burge put in a typical Lee Burge performance against Wigan - not wholly convincing for the goal but not to blame either, and Patterson should view the early cup games as opportunities to get his name on the team sheet for the more important league games later in the campaign.
RB: Younger CB: Wright CB: Doyle LB: Neil
If this game was coming after the end of the transfer window, it’s likely we would see close to eleven changes as Lee Johnson looks to use the August cup games as extra pre-season fixtures.
However, the lack of depth in defence means I’m predicting just two changes in our back four for the trip to Stoke-on-Trent. Callum Doyle is the only left-sided centre back available due to Xhemajli’s absence, and Dan Neil could benefit from more game time at full back after Winchester’s injury means he’s likely to play there at the weekend, even if Cirkin does sign before Friday.
Winchester’s injury means Olliver Younger is likely to come in at right back, and Bailey Wright could replace Tom Flanagan alongside Doyle as he looks to build fitness in case he doesn’t get his move away from the club.
CM: O’Nien CM: Evans
Due to the lack of depth at full back, it's likely to be a rinse and repeat job in the engine room tonight as the partnership of O’Nien and Evans continues.
One of Neil or Winchester would probably have been given the chance to start in their natural position tonight if the latter wasn’t injured but the chance for Sunderland’s preferred midfield pair to get more minutes together is no bad thing.
RM: Diamond AM: O’Brien LM: Hawkes
In contrast with the situation at the back, Sunderland have a wealth of attacking options with Jack Diamond, Aiden O’Brien, Alex Pritchard, Josh Hawkes and Ellis Taylor all fighting for the chance to start in the attacking midfield trio as the three starters from Saturday are likely to be given a midweek break.
Of this five, Jack Diamond is probably the closest to getting a start in the league. There was a genuine chance of him doing so ahead of Gooch last Saturday, and Winchester’s injury means that Diamond will start if we don’t sign a full back this week.
Alex Pritchard is more likely to appear off the bench than from the start since he wasn’t deemed fit enough to come on against Wigan, Aiden O’Brien came on ahead of the former Norwich playmaker and he should start ahead of the new signing in place of Elliot Embleton for tonight’s game.
On the left, Aiden McGeady is aging like a fine wine, but it remains important to rest his legs when possible during a long season. Josh Hawkes often started on the left during pre-season and should do again tonight.
Although not as pressing a concern as full back, Sunderland are likely to sign a backup striker before the end of the season, but until then Will Grigg is the man to lead the line during Ross Stewart’s absence.
Grigg’s role in Lee Johson’s high pressing side is probably going to be as a poacher off the bench in a front two, and the links with Sheffield United’s quick 6 ft 2 in forward Jebbison prove that Grigg doesn’t fit the profile of Johnson’s preferred centre forward.
However, with O’Brien offering more physicality than the other options for the number ten position, Grigg could find himself with the opportunity to grab a goal or two tonight and force his way into Lee Johnson’s plans for the season.