Can we get a first home League Cup win in six years?
October 2013 and two penalties scored by Matt Taylor, who months later would be a Burnley player, and Jack Collison gave West Ham United a 2-0 win in the League Cup fourth round tie at Turf Moor to end our hopes in the competition.
We’d beaten York, Preston and Nottingham Forest to reach that stage of the competition; a creditable effort for us in a season that was already showing more than promise after a terrific start. I think it’s fair to say we’ve done more than alright in league football since, but the League Cup has proved to be a difficult competition for us.
In the subsequent five seasons we have been knocked out on each occasion by a team at least one division below us. Those teams are Sheffield Wednesday, Port Vale, Accrington Stanley, Leeds United and Burton Albion. All but one of those defeats has come at the first time of asking in that season; our only win in the competition since 2013 came at Ewood Park two years ago when we beat Blackburn Rovers 2-0 before going out to Leeds in the next round.
That was the night when home manager Tony Mowbray told Radio Lancashire:
“It’s hard to take for the Rovers fans to see Burnley that far in front of us at the moment.”
I think everyone grasps the fact that the league is the most important and that’s not just because we are in the Premier League, your status in the league structure is always very much the most important. But, it doesn’t excuse this awful record in a competition where we have four times reached the semi-final, the last of them just eleven years ago.
We will change the team again, Sean Dyche has already said that will be the case. We lasted longer in the competition last season but that’s only because we were in Europe. By the time we’d arrived at Burton we’d just won for the first time in the league against Bournemouth. Dyche made six changes to the starting line up, bringing in Tom Heaton, Kevin Long, Stephen Ward, Steven Defour, Dwight McNeil and Chris Wood for Joe Hart, James Tarkowski, Charlie Taylor, Jack Cork, Aaron Lennon and Sam Vokes.
Dyche has said today: “The Premier League is very important, but whatever way you look at it, you still want to do well in the cups and you want to do well in every competition you can. The focus is still on the Premier League, I make no mistake about that, but I think we have a more competitive squad now. We will definitely be putting out a team I believe can win.
“I believe the squad can handle these games, but I have been around the game long enough to know that if you don’t perform you don’t get what you want. The players know that. They have got to perform, and the mentality has to be right to win these games, and that’s the biggest thing, I think.”
He added: “For us, certainly for me and the staff and, I believe, the players here, it’s an important game and we want to make sure we deliver.”
It’s anyone’s guess what the line up will be. I did think we could make eleven changes but with Jόhann Berg Guðmundsson ruled out, having come off at Wolves, and Robbie Brady not quite ready, it could mean we aren’t able to.
If Dyche did want to make as many changes as possible, we could line up: Joe Hart, Phil Bardsley, Kevin Long, Ben Gibson, Charlie Taylor, Aaron Lennon, Jeff Hendrick, Danny Drinkwater, Dwight McNeil, Jay Rodriguez, Matěj Vydra.
One thing that will do is give a debut to most recent signing Danny Drinkwater (pictured). Since arriving from Chelsea on loan he’s not been considered for league games due to the need to get himself Dyche fit. The manager has all but confirmed that he’ll be involved tonight.
When the draw was made, my first thoughts were that we had drawn a big team. It’s probably because it takes a while to realise Sunderland are a League One club. When they were relegated from the Premier League in 2017 it meant them playing a level below us for the first time since the 1970s. We’d got used to them being in the Premier League, rescuing themselves at the end of the season almost on an annual basis for a few years.
Two successive relegations and last season’s last minute play-off final defeat has seen them kick off in League One again. They are currently one of five teams on eleven points from their first five games with three wins and two draws and are expected to be right up there again this season pushing for a return to the Championship.
Like us, Sunderland are expected to make a number of changes from the team that beat Wimbledon 3-1 last Saturday which saw Chris Maguire score all three goals.
It will be the first time we’ve met Sunderland in the League Cup and FA Cup clashes have not been too regular either. We were paired with them five times in pre-war football but since World War II we’ve met just four times in the FA Cup. We beat them 2-0 at home in 1953 with two Bill Holden goals but lost at 1-0 Roker Park two years later.
A 1-1 home draw in 1979, with Jim Thomson scoring our goal, led to Paul Fletcher, Billy Ingham and Steve Kindon all on the scoresheet at Roker in the replay while more recently, after a 0-0 draw at the Stadium of Light, we won the home replay 2-0. That was in 2017 when Sam Vokes and Andre Gray scored our goals.
Sunderland will become the 73rd different club we’ve played in this competition of which twelve of those, including Bury who were expelled yesterday, are no longer in the Football League.Follow UpTheClarets:
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