SEVEN days ago, Sunderland's fringe players failed to take their opportunity when the Black Cats flopped in their final friendly of the summer at Hartlepool United.

A week on and some of the players who featured at the Suit Direct Stadium are likely to get another chance tonight as the Black Cats again face lower league opposition.

This time, though, the game matters. The Carabao Cup is by no means the priority for Tony Mowbray this season but tonight's visit of League Two Crewe Alexandra presents Sunderland with an opportunity to get off the mark for the season after Sunday's defeat to Ipswich Town.

Mowbray was desperately disappointed with last week's showing at Hartlepool and the display meant the team for the Championship opener almost picked itself, but the 48 hour gap between the visits of Ipswich and Crewe will force the head coach to ring the changes tonight - and gives the fringe figures the chance to right the wrongs of seven nights ago.

"None of the players who started that game at Hartlepool did themselves any favours, really - no-one was exactly crying out to start against Ipswich," said Mowbray.

"But the teams we named in our last two friendlies against RCD Mallorca and then Hartlepool were very much picked with our first two competitive games in mind.

"The turnaround between Ipswich in the Championship on Sunday evening and then Crewe on Tuesday night is just too tight to play the same XI twice in 48 hours. So there will be a lot of changes tonight, as you'd expect, and the players will have another chance to give a better account of themselves than they did last week."

Tonight's team will be much changed but should still be strong enough to ensure progression into the second round of the Carabao Cup.

Summer signings Nathan Bishop, Nectar Triantis and Bradley Dack could be in line to make their competitive debuts, while the likes of Chris Rigg, Abdoullah Ba and Alex Pritchard are also expected to start. Mowbray also confirmed that Danny Batth will be in from the off, despite the speculation linking him with a move to Blackburn Rovers.

For Sunderland, tonight's game is also a good opportunity to get back to winning ways at home - a priority after last season's Stadium of Light struggles.

Sunderland lost as many games as they won on Wearside last season, with many visiting sides setting up to frustrate and waste time. That won't be as easy this year, with new guidelines meaning referees will add the exact time lost in goal celebrations, substitutions, injuries or other stoppages. That meant 13 added minutes were played on Sunday.

Mowbray is conflicted. He's glad to see the clampdown on time-wasting, but isn't sure he likes the lengthy new-look games.

He says: "We try to win every game at home, and yet I think the stadium can sometimes inspire the opposition.

"You see them come down the tunnel with their phones out taking pictures, and then the game starts and they waste time from the first minute to take the sting out of the crowd. I've done it myself sometimes as a coach, sometimes when you go to a huge stadium you need to try to take the emotion out of the crowd and slow the game down, annoy them.

"Teams do that here. I can see that. What's going to happen this year is that there are going to be huge times on the clock at half-time and full-time for timewasting. t's going to be really interesting.

"Is this what football is going to be like now? Is it going to be 13 or 14 minutes added on? Is it right? I'm not sure. Managers getting booked and sent off over the weekend for ridiculous things. Goodness me! I feel for the referees, for the officials."


Crewe head for Sunderland on the back of an opening day League Two draw with Mansfield and boss Lee Bell fancies a shock result.

He said: “I’d expect (Sunderland) to make changes because they have had less rest than us, and I believe we could come up with an upset.

“We have to embrace the challenge. Sunderland are getting back toward where they should be and they have a really good manager.

“We have to enjoy the game but we aren’t going there to make the numbers up, we want to execute our plan. We are really looking forward to it."

Sunderland probable XI: Bishop, Huggins, Batth, Triantis, Gooch; Neil, Rigg; Ba, Dack, Pritchard, Bennette