PHIL PARKINSON insists that steering Sunderland as far as he can in the FA Cup is still a goal this season ahead of a first round opener when a record low crowd could be at the Stadium of Light.

In the last couple of days there has been more sales but as of yesterday afternoon there had only been 4,500 tickets snapped up for this lunch-time’s first round tie with Gillingham, climbing up from incredibly low sales of 3,000 earlier in the week.

Sunderland still expect to break the 7,000 barrier but it is not unrealistic to suggest that fewer than the record 6,952 which watched Sunderland’s Trophy group stage game with Grimsby Town on October 8 could attend. That is the lowest recorded crowd for a first team game at the Stadium of Light.

It is a further sign of how Sunderland are looking to emerge from the shadows, having also suffered defeat to Leicester City’s Under-21s in Trophy in midweek and Parkinson accepts he faces a challenge to turn things around on Wearside.

“The feel good factor will come over a period of time, the supporters demand intensity and it’s about picking a team to produce that,” said Parkinson.

“On Tuesday, supporters understand the Trophy wasn’t on the priority this season, but the FA Cup is an important game for us, building a way of playing.

“There will be a low crowd there, the supporters know the league is everything this season. Equally we are looking to produce a performance. I wouldn’t say it is a must win but it is a must perform better than Tuesday game.”

After finishing as low as they ever have last season in the third tier of English football and battling away to climb back in to promotion contention to avoid a third successive season in League One, times have clearly changed at Sunderland in recent years after spending a decade in the Premier League.

Parkinson said: “It is a sleeping giant, everyone knows that. There is a process in place for this club to be taken back to where it belongs but it is not just a case of flicking on a switch.

“This club has had tough times over a period. The aim of the owners and myself is to put the building blocks in place to get the club strong again. It has huge potential. The size of the stadium doesn’t win us games, it’s what you do over the 90 minutes and you have to be aware of that. Players need to run themselves in to the ground.”

Parkinson has won two of his opening six matches in charge, losing three including the midweek defeat to the Foxes’ Under-21s, so the inconsistency that ruined Jack Ross’ tenure has remained.  The current Sunderland boss, though, feels Sunderland fans he has faced since taking over the reins have been appreciative of where they are and the challenge he faces as he looks to deliver Championship football for next season.

“I have been around the area and the fans have been great with me,” said Parkinson. “It’s not unusual because there are Sunderland fans all over the country, everywhere you go you meet them.  “Those I speak to have a good understanding of what is needed here and are desperate to see the club going forward again. They want it done in a way that the club is strong in the long term as well as the short term.  “The club has had tough times, they have stuck by it incredibly well. 30,000 fans for home games in League One is unheard of. I don’t think another club has had that. The passion is incredible. The fans understand there is a process in place to get us back in the next division and to kick on again.

“I have settled in well, getting to the know squad gradually. We have had time on the training pitch, the lads have been good, work hard to achieve the ultimate goal. I had had a good look at the players when I came, I had an idea of what I felt was needed. I am still assessing players who haven’t played as much. The facilities are excellent and there is a good core here determined to do well.”

Parkinson could field goalkeeper Lee Burge against Gillingham even though doubts over his fitness have contributed to the postponement of next week’s trip to Bristol Rovers.

Burge is being monitored to see if he can make his comeback in a bid to get him back to full fitness. He had to be replaced at half-time during the defeat at Shrewsbury on October 26 because of the muscle injury and it has still caused issues when he has kicked in training.

Those worries have led to manager Phil Parkinson deciding to postpone the trip to Bristol Rovers following the Scotland call-up to Jon McLaughlin, as well as Northern Ireland calls for Conor McLaughlin and Tom Flanagan.

But Burge could make a surprise appearance against Gillingham after Parkinson delivered the squad’s injury update.

He said: “Denver Hume has got a virus, so he’s a doubt, so we’ll just wait to see how he is - probably similar to what Duncan Watmore had last week, and we’ll just see how he is close to the kick-off.

“Lynden Gooch has been out running today, so touch wood that’s him making progress. Charlie Wyke has made good progress the last couple of days, the swelling has gone out of his ankle - Brandon Taylor’s a lot happier so hopefully we’ll get him going next week in terms of out on the grass running. Elliot Embleton is another three months away, so he’s a long-term injury.

“Lee Burge has trained some of the week, and we’ll assess him tomorrow and see how he’s got through today - he did feel it a little bit at the end of the session, so we’ll just make a decision whether we’re going to put him in the squad tomorrow.”