SO MUCH for Gus Poyet’s hopes of keeping a settled defence.
Prior to his opening game in charge, Poyet unveiled his blueprint to give his defensive selection time to gel after four different combinations during Sunderland’s opening seven games had shipped 16 goals.
When his first back four selection conceded four, Poyet went back to the drawing board.
And now, in tonight’s fourth game at the helm, the Sunderland head coach will again be forced to make further changes to his back line.
Sunderland’s decision to opt against appealing the red cards shown to Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena at Hull was the only realistic one available to them. However much Poyet felt the decision to dismiss Cattermole was harsh, the FA would have shown little sympathy.
The absence of Dossena from the next three outings deprives Poyet of his only specialist left-back and after vowing not to restore Jack Colback to that makeshift position, Ondrej Celustka would appear the only viable option at full-back.
Celustka sporadically played on the left-hand side of defence before arriving at the Stadium of Light during the summer and it will be a toss-up between the Czech and Phil Bardsley over who leaves the more familiar surroundings of right-back.
A new left-back will not be the only change tonight though.
Vito Mannone will surely continue in goal, rather than taking a risk on Keiren Westwood.
And a Capital One Cup encounter – albeit a last 16 tie – is an ideal opportunity to give Wes Brown a first competitive start since January 2012’s FA Cup clash with Middlesbrough.
Considering the length of Brown’s absence and those huge question marks over whether he would ever play again, the 34-year-old looked in decent nick at Hull, even if the Tigers’ lack of imagination gave Sunderland’s emergency back three a helping hand.
Brown needs games to shake off more of the rust, but if the former England international can get some match sharpness and avoid any more injury disaster, he is potentially the best centre-half at Poyet’s disposal.
While Brown, Celustka and Mannone are likely to be handed starts at the back, Ki Sung-Yeung will surely be the replacement for Cattermole in midfield.
Poyet has been impressed by Ki on the training ground and there was a tinge of regret that he couldn’t shoehorn him into the starting XI for the derby.
While the battling qualities of Cattermole and Colback proved crucial in beating Newcastle, Sunderland badly missed someone capable of keeping possession at the KC Stadium.
But the more intriguing aspect of Poyet’s selection will be the make-up of the rest of Sunderland’s midfield and attack.
Does he revert to the three-man central midfield which worked well against Liverpool and Manchester United by sacrificing a striker?
And is there scope for recalling Adam Johnson or Emanuele Giaccherini in the wide roles at the expense of Seb Larsson or Fabio Borini?
Poyet can tinker and hand an opportunity to impress ahead of Sunday’s visit of Manchester City.
Facing a Southampton side, who are in the midst of an eight-game unbeaten run, is a test almost as stern as facing City.
The Saints are one of the most impressive sides Sunderland have faced this season, albeit it was one of only two games where the Black Cats have come away with something to show for their efforts.
And although Mauricio Pochettino’s side have only scored four Premier League goals away from St Mary’s, they are set piece specialists – ominously given Sunderland’s troubles from deadball situations.
But Pochettino is expected to make wholesale changes tonight, with the likes of Steve Davis, Gaston Ramirez, Maya Yoshia and Jos Hooiveld all given a run-out.
That will provide hope for a Black Cats side, temporarily freed from the mental pressures of the relegation battle.
Given Poyet would face a headline-grabbing tie with former club Chelsea in the next round, perhaps fate will shine fondly on Sunderland for once this season.
Verdict: Home win after extra-time