Sunderland suffered a humbling 4-0 loss to Portsmouth at the weekend and they’ll be desperate to right the wrongs from that fixture against Lincoln City in midweek.
It may be a Papa John’s Trophy tie but his charges will not want to dwell on that defeat to Pompey and will be eager to get back to winning ways on Tuesday night.
The Black Cats have also yet to play a fixture in the trophy and are likely to mix things up as their priorities will no doubt lie with League One glory and promotion back into the Championship.
Still, Lee Johnson will want to make enough changes to get a first win in the competition on the board so here are three tweaks that the boss should make ahead of the game.
1. Rest some key players – but don’t completely de-strengthen the starting line-up
Sunderland may be more determined to land the third tier title than the Papa John’s Trophy but the competition does provide the club with a chance to bring some more success to the side’s fans and build spirit amongst the group of players involved with the team.
After missing out on promotion in the 2020/21 season, fans were disgruntled and players were no doubt unhappy to remain in the third tier. A good run in the cup – and a trophy win – would certainly bring some happiness to the Stadium of Light.
That isn’t to say he should field a completely unchanged starting XI from the loss to Portsmouth, as the season is long and rotation is key. Younger heads should be brought in and should be given the chance to shine. It’s just important to ensure the squad isn’t overhauled too much, as it could impact on the end result.
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2. Start Leon Dajaku
The 20-year old was signed from Union Berlin on loan and although he’s already played in three fixtures (and bagged a goal along the way) he has yet to feature for a full 90 minutes of action.
He started against Portsmouth but was ultimately subbed off and before that, his appearances mainly came from the bench.
Dajaku is young and could have the potential to get even better giving more gametime. He’s played for Bayern Munich second-string side and they clearly must have seen something in him to pluck the player for their academy.
His showing against Portsmouth wasn’t the best start but he’ll be determined to show he can be a key player for the Black Cats this season – so giving him another start and another chance to shine against Lincoln, especially with Sunderland’s current injury issues, could be worth doing.
3. Give Lee Burge another go in goal
Another player swap should come at the other end of the field, with Lee Burge coming in for Ron-Thorben Hoffman.
In the former’s last outing for Lee Johnson’s men, he bagged a clean sheet as his team beat Wigan Athletic in the EFL Cup. Before that, he’d previously impressed when given the nod in goal for his team’s 2-1 win over MK Dons.
At 28-years old and with over 200 Football League appearances to his name, his experience could help the side massively in this fixture, especially if Lee Johnson decides to side with a more youthful looking starting XI.
He’s looked solid in the sticks so far when called upon this campaign and it may be worth giving Hoffman a rest for the remaining League One games, as he looks to be the standout number one at the club going forward.