Keeper Jordan Pickford will be only Sunderland youngster to start in FA Cup tie at Arsenal

Jordan Pickford
Jordan Pickford

Jordan Pickford will be the only Sunderland youngster handed his debut in the starting XI for tomorrow’s FA Cup third round tie at Arsenal.

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce will ring the changes at the Emirates this weekend, with the Black Cats boss forced to preserve his key figures for next Wednesday’s crucial Premier League relegation clash against fellow strugglers Swansea.

There’s only one player who hasn’t played for the first-team before. All the others have done

Sam Allardyce

Allardyce will turn to those who have been on the fringes over recent weeks – including the likes of DeAndre Yedlin, Jeremain Lens and Jordi Gomez – for a much-changed line-up against the league leaders.

But there will not be a baptism of fire for those in the Under-21 squad, even though a handful of the club’s rookies are expected to be on the bench.

Goalkeeper Pickford – recalled from a loan spell at Championship club Preston last week – is the only player guaranteed to get his first taste of first-team football under Allardyce.

“If we didn’t have a mid-week fixture, a stronger team would be playing,” said Allardyce.

“That’s no disrespect to the team that’s playing tomorrow because it might be good enough to win. I hope it is.

“I’m playing one or two players who haven’t played as much.

“But there’s only one player who hasn’t played for the first-team before. All the others have done.

“We’re using the squad to its full potential, based on another game on Wednesday and one the following Saturday.

“It’s a challenge to the lads because this is one of the best games of the season, the FA Cup third round.

“It’s not a banana skin stage for us, unless we pull off a miraculous win with a win over Arsenal at Arsenal.

“But if they show me what they’ve got, they can easily get back in the team on a regular basis.”

Allardyce wouldn’t publicly confirm that Pickford is that “one player”, but the goalkeeper has been brought back to his boyhood club with the challenge of ousting Vito Mannone and Costel Pantilimon from the number one spot.

“I only had a short period to bring him back, but he’s had an outstanding run of games at Preston, where he’s been all over the press,” said Allardyce.

“There’s been whispers in football about what a good young goalkeeper he is.

“He’s a Sunderland boy and a Sunderland fan and he’s our player, so he comes back and threatens Vito and Costel.”

Allardyce has not held back in his criticism of the Premier League’s decision to hold a round of midweek fixtures next week – forcing many top flight managers to leave out their key players for the third round of the cup.

But there’s still a regret from Allardyce that the cup is not the competition which is able to captivate a nation, as it once did.

“The cup is a wonderful competition and it’s steeped in history and tradition,” he added.

“I dreamt about being a professional footballer and then when I became one, I dreamt about playing in an FA Cup final.

“When I was a youngster, I got up at 9am on a Saturday and got myself ready to watch the TV and the build-up to the final.

“I lost an FA Cup semi-final at Bolton in 2000 at the old Wembley.

“We all love the FA Cup. We’ve all got great affection for it.

“But the reality is that we are guided by what is the most important thing and that’s to make sure we stay in the Premier League.”