Should Sunderland sacrifice FA Cup clash with Middlesbrough?

The Championship is very much the priority for both Middlesbrough and Sunderland.

Thursday, 4th January 2018, 11:37 am
Updated Thursday, 4th January 2018, 11:40 am
Jason Steele

That will be reflected in the team selection for both teams, neither believing they have a realistic chance of making it into the last rounds of the contest.

For Tony Pulis in particular, the game will be an opportunity to take a look at the fringe players in his squad ahead of what is likely to be a busy January of departures.

The likes of Ashley Fletcher, Marcus Tavernier, Adam Forshaw and Adam Clayton have been largely ignored by the new manager so far and while he has once before reached the Wembley showpiece final, he will know that at the moment it is all about managing his squad for a promotion push.

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It is the same for Chris Coleman at the other end of the table, avoiding a catastrophic consecutive relegation the focus.

He can ill afford any more injuries, having already lost crucial playmaker Darron Gibson, top goalscorer Lewis Grabban and others.

The temptation may well be to take a raft of his senior figures out of the frame ahead of a critical league game against Cardiff City seven days later.

In truth, he has few options.

It would be a perfect opportunity to give Josh Maja, Joel Asoro or both the chance to start after some promising recent cameos, but squad numbers are so thin that elsewhere it will likely be a similar team.

There are a few youngsters who could come into the fray. The injury to Darron Gibson could see the likes of Elliot Embleton and Ethan Robson challenge for a spot, while Tom Beadling has been near the squad recently and could be used to give John O’Shea or Marc Wilson a breather.

Coleman has also had high praise for Jason Steele since his arrival and might see this as a chance to see him in a competitive match environment.

Ultimately, however, Coleman does not really have the option to ‘write off’ the cup.

As such, he will see an opportunity to improve morale in front of an outstanding away support and lift the mood for the relegation push ahead.

The cup may not be a priority for Sunderland but that doesn’t mean this game cannot be a useful exercise.