Tony Mowbray is likely to make a couple of changes for Sunderland's FA Cup fourth round replay against Fulham on Wearside tomorrow night to guard against burnout with a busy fixture schedule ahead. The Black Cats boss will have to make at least one change, with on-loan Leeds United striker Joe Gelhardt - who made his debut in Saturday's draw at Millwall - cup-tied.
But Mowbray is also considering other changes mindful of the fact that his team is in the midst of a sequence that, starting with that trip to Millwall, sees them play Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday, and victory against Fulham would see another Tuesday-Saturday combination tacked on at the end of that run. Asked whether he would take into account those demands, Mowbray said: "I think that's the dilemma.
"We're in this situation, at this stage of the season. I haven't been here two or three years so I need to see how this team reacts. The positive of me sitting here and telling you how young the team is - I read the stat that the average age of the starting XI at Millwall was 22.5 - is that all the players should be fit and powerful and able to run.
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I shouldn't be having to worry too much about tired old legs. We'll have to make some decisions in terms of the selection fo the team, with half an eye on a league match against Reading at home this weekend that we have to try and target to get the three points.
It's just about getting the balance - how much can you go to the well with the same group of players every match? "We're in a period now where we potentially have a midweek game every week this month, with a squad where we will have a 15-year-old on the bench again and maybe a couple of 17-year-olds as well.
"It's stretching our squad, with the injuries we've got and some players who aren't eligible tomorrow night. We're a bit short for this game but it's a great opportunity for some of these youngsters to feel the atmosphere and show what we can do."
With Gelhardt ineligible and Ross Stewart ruled out for the remainder of the season, Mowbray has no out-and-out centre-forward to call upon and will consider either playing Amad through the middle or else potentially bringing midfielder Alex Pritchard into the starting XI to play in a more advanced role, as he did earlier in the season when Sunderland were left with no fit strikers. Defender Luke O'Nien is available again after serving a three-match ban following his red card against Swansea City last month.
But new signings Joe Anderson and Isaac Lihadji will not be able to play in the replay as they were not eligible for the initial tie. Lihadji joined from Lille before the trip to Fulham ten days ago but his work permit was not processed in time for him to play in that game, although it has now been finalised.
Anderson joined on deadline day from Everton, which was after the initial game against Fulham. Dennis Cirkin is also unavailable tomorrow night as he must work through the concussion protocols after being knocked out as he scored Sunderland's equaliser at Millwall.
The winners of tomorrow's game will face Premier League Leeds United at home in the fifth round.
- Dennis Cirkin's Sunderland message after netting dramatic equaliser at Millwall
- Joe Gelhardt says the Championship is tougher than the Premier League after his Sunderland debut
- Sunderland show true grit at Millwall to earn a point and keep their play-off challenge on track
- Sunderland new boy Joe Gelhardt is relishing the challenge of filling Ross Stewart's shoes
- Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray on Dennis Cirkin's bravery and how it will cost him an FA Cup outing