SUNDERLAND’S defence of the Papa John’s Trophy continues tomorrow evening, with Oldham Athletic travelling to Wearside in the competition’s first knockout round.

The Black Cats are just four wins away from a return to Wembley, and an opportunity to replicate last season’s final success, only this time in front of fans.

Lee Johnson would love to be able to celebrate a Trophy win in front of supporters, but while he might not admit it publicly, his main aim tomorrow night will be more mundane. Escaping without adding to his side’s horrific injury list is the number one priority as Sunderland kick off December’s packed schedule.

With that in mind, Johnson will select a ‘mix-and-match’ starting line-up comprised of a handful of the youngsters that impressed in the Papa John’s group stage as well as some of the more experienced names that are set for a prolonged run in the first team after struggling for game time earlier in the season.

Anthony Patterson will start in goal following his recall from Notts County – Sunderland’s more established number two, Lee Burge, remains unavailable because of injury – while Frederik Alves will return to the defence in either a centre-half of wing-back position.

Ollie Younger will hope to feature in the backline, with fellow youngsters Will Harris, Cieran Dunne, Ellis Taylor and Harrison Sohna also pushing for a start.

At the other end of the experience scale, Johnson might well be tempted to stick with the likes of Lynden Gooch and Alex Pritchard, who could potentially benefit from an extended run of matches.

Aiden O’Brien and Elliot Embleton, both unused substitutes during Saturday’s league win at Cambridge, are expected to start.

“I think, over the course of a season, there are going to be injuries which will provide opportunities for others and allow others to step up,” said centre-half Bailey Wright. “There are a few that are missing, but I’m sure they will get back fit and, when they are, they will be like new additions.”

Oldham head to the Stadium of Light in a sorry state, with Keith Curle having left his position as head coach last week.

The Latics, who have been beset by off-field problems, currently sit second bottom of League Two. With former academy coach, Selim Benachour, having assumed caretaker control, they have won just one of their last ten matches in all competitions.