Carlisle performance vindicated Simon Grayson’s usual selections

Robbin Ruiter's penalty save
Robbin Ruiter's penalty save
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Simon Grayson said those who took to the field at Brunton Park had a genuine opportunity to earn their place in the side at Oakwell on Saturday.

You’d expect that starting XI to be much the same as it has been for the previous four league games, which tells the story of a game in which Sunderland were lucky to come out on top.

James Vaughan tries an overhead kick

James Vaughan tries an overhead kick

Carlisle were uncertain at the back throughout, Sunderland always likely to find a way through.

At the other end, however, the Black Cats were opened up on a number of occasions, the hosts unfortunate not to take this tie into extra time at the very least.

Robbin Ruiter, making his competitive debut, showed that those impressive pre-season performances were anything but a fluke.

Without his heroics, his side would unquestionably have been staring down the barrel of a humiliating cup exit to League Two opposition.

Sunderland fans celebrate

Sunderland fans celebrate

First was a fine reflex save with his legs, denying Nicky Adams as the ball broke across the Sunderland box.

Then there was the pick of the bunch, a stunning leap to turn a clean strike from Jamie Devitt over the bar with an oustretched left hand.

While the defence in front of him was uncertain, Ruiter was a figure of calm and in truth it was no surprise to see him save Danny Grainger’s penalty.

He was unfortunate to concede the follow up, a clean sheet deserved for his performance if not those of many in front of him.

The penalty was conceded after a rash challenge from Papy Djilobodji, cleaning out the centre-forward when Ruiter seemed to have the danger covered in the box. The Senegal international was poor throughout the game, often out of position and clearing poorly. Grayson has been reluctant to use him in the squad for league games so far this season and after this performance he seems unlikely to return anytime soon.

It may perhaps be best for both club and player if a continental suitor can be found in the closing week of the transfer window, though Sunderland will have to accept a significant loss.

He was far from the only player to miss the chance to take that shirt for the crucial league clash with Barnsley this weekend.

All over the pitch Sunderland underwhelmed, not able to really dictate the pace of the contest in midfield.

Simon Grayson talked up Wahbi Khazri’s potential as a number ten in the build up to this game, and while he often threatened, coming close in the opening minutes, it was a night of frustration.

His undoubted quality could not shine through and in the closing minutes of the game he looked frustrated, booked for a push and often getting in confrontations with the referee.

His Sunderland future will be settled over the next week but he did not make a particularly strong case for inclusion in the meantime.

Encouragement came mostly in the form of Lynden Gooch, who was mightily impressive as part of a front duo with Joel Asoro.

Unsurprisingly, Sunderland got little change when they want long to the pair, both small in stature, but when they got the ball down and played Gooch showed real quality and composure.

His cross for Donald Love to score the opener was excellent, and even after fading in the second half, he found that extra level to settle the game with a quite excellent goal.

He and Ruiter were the stand out fringe players, though credit must also go to John O’Shea, who marshalled a new look and very shaky defence with a resolute display.

He was excellent in the air, showed good poise to snuff out a number of attacks, and showed he will remain a reliable presence over the course of the season.

In the end, it needed the guile of Aiden McGeady to settle Sunderland, improving both the speed and incision of Sunderland’s attacks.

Lamine Kone and James Vaughan, two other second half substitutes, also did much to calm the side and see them through to the next round.

That was to a degree the story of the night for Simon Grayson.

A night when one or two pushed their first team credentials, but when Grayson’s usual selections were otherwise vindicated.

A night when Sunderland laboured for the most part, but showed some much needed resolve to send supporters home happy.

Their bouyant post-whistle celebrations showed they are enjoying life far more than they have for a while, even if this remains a work in progress.