Jack Ross reveals Sunderland target and which first team players will feature in Checkatrade Trophy clash
Winning League One is Jack Ross' priority but he has pledged to take the Checkatrade Trophy seriously and field a strong side.
Ross admits there will be changes from the team that drew 1-1 with Oxford United but the likes of Charlie Wyke, Tom Flanagan and Dylan McGeouch are expected to get some much-needed game time against Stoke City U23s.
Wyke returned from his knee injury as a half-time sub against Oxford, scoring the equaliser, while McGeouch has come on as a sub in the last three games.
Tom Flanagan was an unused sub against the Us after returning from a leg injury and is in line to make his debut tonight at the Stadium of Light.
Reece James and Alim Ozturk could also be given run-outs.
“I think we have to be respectful of the competition, it’s important to stress that,” said Ross, when asked how seriously he was taking the competition.
“It’s silverware, it’s an opportunity to get to the national stadium.
“It’s a sponsored tournament, there’s all these different reasons.
“Again for me it’s learning about the number of games you have.
“But the good thing for me is we’ve had a number of young players involved in our squads through the opening matches because of the injuries we’ve had.
“Now we’re getting the senior players back a lot of them will play on Tuesday but a lot of them are first-team players – not just here, but they have been in the past.
“We’ll make a lot of changes but we’ll be strong. Charlie, Tom, Dylan, Reece, Alim – guys like that will probably need more game-time so we’ll look at that.
“We will be fairly strong again.”
The final will be held at Wembley but Ross admits he can’t think that far ahead.
“Do you know what, right now it’s so far away it’s not something I can think about,” he added.
“Everything we do is game to game and the priority and the ambition for me is to win the league this season.
“I’ve already seen how challenging that’s going to be.
“At the moment it’s just about figuring out the best team and winning the game tonight.”
The Black Cats have previously fielded an U23 team in the competition but following relegation to League One, this season will be the first time a senior Sunderland side has taken part in the revamped tournament.
There are some stringent squad selection rules for teams taking part in the Checkatrade Trophy, although they shouldn’t affect Sunderland too much.
Ross will need to name a minimum of four ‘qualifying players’ in his ten starting outfield players.
For the game against Stoke, a ‘qualifying player’ is a player will anyone who: started the game against Oxford on Saturday; or goes on to start the game against Fleetwood next weekend; or is one of Sunderland’s top ten appearance makers this season; or who has made over 40 first team appearances during their career; or is on loan from a Premier League club or an EFL club operating a category one academy.
Most of Sunderland’s first team players will tick at least one of those boxes.
In terms of his goalkeeper, Ross has free rein so could hand a start to Robbin Ruiter or Max Stryjek.
The Black Cats, in Group A, will then face Carlisle United at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday October 9 before rounding off their group campaign away at Morecambe on Tuesday November 13. The top two sides in each group then progress to the knockout stages.