Billy Jones and Donald Love will get the chance to impress David Moyes when they line up for Sunderland at Hartlepool United.
The pair will be the most high-profile Black Cats stars in the U23 side for the Checkatrade Trophy derby against their League Two neighbours (kick-off 7.30pm).
When we haven’t got the ball, we’re going to have to be physical against them otherwise they’ll overpower us.
Love, a summer signing from Manchester United alongside Old Trafford comrade Paddy McNair, played the opening three Premier League games of the season and the EFL Cup win against Shewsbury.
However, the 21-year-old has not featured since the second-round win at QPR where he was part of the triple substitution 22 minutes from time which transformed the tie.
Love was on the bench on Saturday in the 1-1 draw with West Brom so he will get some vital game time tonight at the Northern Gas & Power Stadium.
The same applies to Jones, who has not played at all this season.
Troubled by a long-standing hip problem in pre-season, the 29-year-old, whose only first-team involvement to date has been as an unused sub at Loftus Road, will be one of tonight’s permitted over-age players.
First-team coach Robbie Stockdale, in charge of the Sunderland U23 side tonight, may field another in the shape of keeper, Mika.
The 25-year-old, signed last month from Boavista, has watched the last five matches from the subs bench as the understudy to Jordan Pickford.
While Pickford has been outstanding, Moyes, Stockdale and Paul Bracewell may decide some competitive action may benefit Mika.
Sunderland fielded Jan Kirchhoff and Jason Denayer in the first Checkatrade Trophy fixture at Rochdale, which served players and club well.
But Stockdale will point out that tonight’s trip down the A19 is more than just a run-out for first-team men needing minutes.
It’s about the U23 side, going along nicely in the Premier Reserve League, getting an ‘adult’ test against a League Two side unbeaten in five matches.
“It will be a very similar team to what we went to Rochdale with,” said Stockdale.
“I think that opened a few of the younger players’ eyes, I think we are expecting something similar in terms of a physical test.
“We spoke about trying to neutralise the physical aspect of the game when we had the ball and technically I hope we’ll be able to do that.
“When we haven’t got the ball, we’re going to have to be physical against them otherwise they’ll overpower us.
“It’s a real competition, there’s something riding on it.
“When we went to Rochdale it felt real, it was a good atmosphere, they were certainly up for it.
“Rochdale had not been on a great run and picked the majority of the team that had played the previous weekend.
“We’re not sure what side Hartlepool will play, the rules state they have to play a fairly strong team.
“We’ll go there with an eye on winning, we want to play well, entertain and for the players to do their jobs properly.”
The clubs met in pre-season when Sunderland won 3-0 at the Vic in Sam Allardyce’s last match in charge.
With Jermain Defoe leading the first team into a three-goal interval lead, the Black Cats sent out the young prospects for the second 45 minutes which ended goalless.
“Hartlepool are a good team, a strong team, we played them in pre-season,” Stockdale said in an interview on www.safc.com.
“I know their manager, Craig Hignett and [assistant] Curtis Fleming very well and it will be good to see them.
“But it will be a very tough game - I watched them last week against Luton, I was impressed by the way they tried to play football, but physically they are strong, they play at that level week-in and week-out.
“It’s a challenge for our young players but this is what this tournament is all about.”