Moyes takes a back seat as Robbie Stockdale takes control of Sunderland for EFL Trophy opener at Rochdale

Robbie Stockdale will take charge of Sunderland Under-23s for tomorrow's EFL Trophy group tie at Rochdale
Robbie Stockdale will take charge of Sunderland Under-23s for tomorrow's EFL Trophy group tie at Rochdale
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Robbie Stockdale will take charge of Sunderland as they enter the Checkatrade Trophy for the first time.

Sunderland Under-23s launch their challenge tomorrow night away to League One Rochdale at the Crown Oil Arena (kick-off 7.45pm).

Under-23 manager Andy Welsh will assist first-team coach Stockdale, with David Moyes and his assistant Paul Bracewell watching on from the stands.

Moyes has confirmed that a few senior players are set to be involved to help boost fitness levels during the international break.

The revamped Football League Trophy, which has suffered from poor attendances, has caused controversy after Premier League Under-23 sides were invited to participate for the first time alongside League One and League Two outfits.

Six of the 16 top-flight clubs invited rejected the offer, but Sunderland are taking part and they are in Northern Group F alongside Hartlepool United, Rochdale and Notts County.

Sunderland will have to field six players who are 21 or under in their starting XI against Rochdale – currently bottom of League One – with first-teamers eligible for the remaining positions.

“I am going to give Robbie Stockdale the game, he will take charge of the team,” Moyes told the Echo.

“The reason for that is because it is an Under-23 game and he has managed them before, also because we are bringing some seniors in and I also want Robbie to get the experience.

“Andy Welsh will be his assistant.

“Me and Brace will sit up in the stand and watch the game.

“At the moment, there might be two or three of the senior boys involved, depending how they get through the next few days.

“It might give us a chance to get two or three in to the side to get some match practice.”

Sunderland currently have eight players away on international duty, after Jordan Pickford withdrew from the England Under-21s with a slight hamstring strain.

They are Patrick van Aanholt (Holland), John O’Shea (Ireland), Lamine Kone (Ivory Coast), Wahbi Khazri (Tunisia), Paddy McNair (Northern Ireland), Joel Asoro (Sweden U21s), Duncan Watmore (England U21s) and Donald Love (Scotland U21s).

Moyes is looking to involve a few of the senior players left behind though, with the game a good chance to boost fitness levels.

One of the younger players set to be involved tomorrow night is 21-year-old George Honeyman, who has been on the fringes of the first-team squad this season.

“It will be a good test for the lads to see how they can cope against a physically tough opposition,” said Honeyman.

“For young lads, like myself, it’s a good step in our development because we want to push ourselves and show what we can do.

“It will be a good test to see where we are in our development and hopefully, if we can replicate what we have shown in the league, then I’m sure it will get some notice.”

Honeyman has scored three times in two games for the Under-23s this season, who are unbeaten in Premier League 2 so far.

Everton top the table with three wins out of three, two points ahead of Sunderland, with Southampton in third on six points.

Honeyman added: “I’m delighted with my start to the season because goals have been something I have wanted to add to my game.

“The older I have got, the more I have realised that goals is a major thing to have in your game and that’s what I have tried to work on over the summer. Hopefully it can continue.”

The top two from each regional group of the Checkatrade Trophy will qualify for the knockout rounds, culminating in a showpiece final at Wembley.