Sunderland's FA Cup dilemma assessed and the factors that will influence Lee Johnson's big calls

So, what next?

Friday, 5th November 2021, 11:41 am

Two dire defeats on the road have merely underlined this week that even for all the positive momentum and financial benefits cup runs muster, this year perhaps above all years they have to be secondary to League One success.

Sunderland have already played four away games in the Carabao Cup, and have another to come in the middle of a busy festive period.

Papa John's Trophy progression is already secured, meaning at least one additional fixture at the end of this month.

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Mansfield Town take the lad at the Stadium of Light last year

It would be tempting, even accounting for its undoubted status as the premier cup competition, to see the FA Cup as a bridge too far this season.

To play a predominantly U23s side, who have proven in the Papa John's to be capable of making the step up. A win becomes an added bonus, a defeat a disappointment but one to be placed in the context of the wider season and its challenges.

Now, though, there is a need to begin rebuilding some fluidity after what has been a draining week in which confidence in the push for automatic promotion has taken a significant hit.

Lee Johnsons knows he will have to 'take the heat' for overseeing three league defeats in a row, and will be eager to ensure that a damaging early exit does not add to the unease.

There are some selection decisions which may well look after themselves.

For one, Lee Burge has proved a strong deputy in the League Cup and will surely be given a chance to press his claims further.

Up front, Ross Stewart's workload over the past week has been punishing and there is a clear opportunity here to a) give Will Harris a chance his U23 form merits and b) begin to build Nathan Broadhead up to full match fitness.

You would expect that over the next two cup games (with Bradford City visiting in the Papa John's on Tuesday night) they will take the vast majority, if not all, of the Scot's workload.

After two disappointing performances, it also presents a natural opportunity to give some in the squad a chance to impress, Frederik Alves being the most obvious example.

It was a year ago that Mansfield came to the Stadium of Light for an FA Cup first round fixture having not win a competitive game of any sort in the opening months of the campaign.

Having been appointed the day before, Nigel Clough watched on from the stands as his side not just beat but outplayed the Black Cats.

It was a performance that set alarm bells ringing, after a relatively solid but unspectacular start to the campaign.

It was also the start of a five-game winless run that would lead to Parkinson's departure, and the onset of major change behind the scenes.

Parkinson made eight changes for that game, but it was a strong side that should have been more than capable of finding the result.

Across the club Sunderland are in a very different place twelve months, but Johnson will be eager all the same to show his squad remain on the right track.

Equally eager, you’d expect, to name a side capable of ensuring there is no need for an entirely unwanted, energy-sapping replay.

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