Sunderland didn’t need this competition - and their approached reflected that
I started writing this at half time. The truth is, I was confident not much would change in the second half - and that’s fair enough.
There is no doubt that a cup run right now with the squad depth Alex Neil has at his disposal would not be a welcome thing. It was patently clear this game was little more a glorified training exercise with the aim of building fitness than it was a genuine attempt to progress to round two.
And that’s fair enough - the fact that all of Sunderland’s starting XI were changed from Saturday is an indication of where this match came in the priority stakes.
There should be no overreaction to a pointless game where negativity might only damage morale.
However, the objective is to play well and win. Sunderland didn’t really do that unfortunately and that leaves a tiny bit of a sour taste - because if nothing else players who do have not played much of a part up until now this season should have seen this as an opportunity.
You do want to see performances from players who would be expected to come in and contribute at a higher level - perhaps even on Saturday. The fact that precious few players stepped up is of mild concern - but no one should go overboard.
Central softness shows the need for reinforcements
The backup option to Neil and Evans was on display tonight in O’Nien and Matete. The conclusion can only be that Sunderland need a little more bite in midfield in the Championship.
Relying on either of these two to add something different might be a stretch too far right now because neither imposed themselves on the game at all; it’s also true to say that the midfield partner that might make O’Nien a more effective player isn’t currently at the club.
Matete in particular may benefit from a loan, whereas O’Nien - who did come into the game more later on - would benefit from a midfield destroyer or a lynchpin alongside him.
Either way, an addition is needed because Corry Evans will not stay fit for 46 games.
Diamond and Hume stake their claims
Two players who perhaps came out of the evening with credit are arguably the two with most to prove.
Diamond was a willing runner all evening and fed off precious little. However his runs, desire and movement showed that he wants a chance to impress at the club this season rather than head out on loan again.
Hume, meanwhile, showed himself to be capable in both attack and defence. Again, his positioning was good and ultimately looked like a proper right sided defensive player that at some point will become a first team regular.
There is no doubt he will give Gooch a run for his money if he stays put in this campaign. We do not know what Neil’s plans for him are yet, and while he could find himself out on loan, there is nothing to suggest that a right back should be top of Sunderland’s shopping list.
But Sunderland are in need of another striker
Without a doubt if Sunderland had a third striker on their books he would have played tonight. For all of the endeavour of the aforementioned Diamond, he is simply not a striker - and the lack of a focal point up top was clear for all to see.
The challenge is, who does Neil persuade to come, given the credentials of Stewart and Simms? It was likely the factor which killed off any chance of Broadhead coming back but, on the flip side, Sunderland will only look to bring in players who can meaningfully improve a side.
Who that is is anyone’s guess but it’s not likely an incoming will be before the end of the window, or on anything else except a loan basis. Given clubs will be looking to loan their players to teams who can guarantee game time, the Black Cats might find themselves at the back of the queue when it comes to preference for the rest of the window - something they’ve not been used to for a number of years.
No matter, the answer may lie within the youth system which has borne fruit aplenty over the last few years.