What Sunderland's under-23 side told us about Jack Ross' Bristol Rovers plans
Sunderland are just one game away from a Wembley cup final - and Jack Ross has some big decisions to make ahead of tonight's clash with Bristol Rovers.
So far this season, the Black Cats boss has used the Checkatrade Trophy to rotate his squad and hand opportunities to those in the academy - a formula which has worked well up to this point.
Benji Kimpioka and Bali Mumba are two of the players who have profited significantly from Sunderland's run to the semi-final, with the majority of their game time coming for the under-23 side this campaign.
Kimpioka in particular has flourished in the Checkatrade Trophy, scoring twice against Carlisle and Newcastle Under-21s in his five appearances.
Mumba, too, has impressed after starting against Notts County and Newcastle's youngsters, yet both appear unlikely to feature against Rovers in tonight's semi-final.
Both played the full 90 minutes for Sunderland's under-23 side against Aston Villa in Premier League 2, Division 2, on Monday night, as the young Black Cats lost 1-0 at the Banks's Stadium.
Ross has also hinted he will play the strongest side possible available against Rovers, with a Wembley final on the line.
"I would think so," said Ross when asked if he will play the strongest side available against the Gas.
"It's in a busy schedule but it's been like that all year, and at this point it's not that different to what we would normally face anyway."
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Sunderland's strength in depth has meant Ross has rarely played a 'weakened side' in the Checkatrade Trophy this season.
Goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter has played in every game this campaign, while summer signings Alim Ozturk and Dylan McGeouch have also profited.
When asked whether Ruiter was the keeper for this competition, Ross replied: “Not necessarily. We’ll just pick a team in every single game based on what we think is right for it and we’ll do it again on Tuesday.”
While Ross has made clear he will pick the strongest side available, Rovers boss Graham Coughlan also has some dilemmas.
Despite a resounding 4-0 win over Blackpool last time out, the Gas are 21st in League One, two points adrift of safety.
When asked about the team he would play against the Black Cats, Coughlan said: "At the end of our day our priority has been, and will always be, to stay in this division.
"Whatever goes on tomorrow night goes on, we will deal with that and then will get back on Wednesday morning and concentrate on our league campaign.
“But it is a nice relief, a nice change and a lovely challenge."