Sunderland’s Checkatrade Trophy trip to Hartlepool United is a match which brings a smile to the face of Tommy Miller.
Twice as a Pools player he dumped out current Black Cats boss David Moyes from this very competition when the Scot was boss at Preston North End.
Craig signed a few players in the summer and maybe it’s taken a bit of time for it all to gel.
And while Moyes, strictly speaking, is not in charge tonight – Robbie Stockdale will be guiding Sunderland’s U23 side – Miller would not be shocked to see Pools beat one of his other former clubs tonight.
But the 37-year-old says this evening’s tie at the Norther Gas & Power Stadium is an important one for Sunderland and Moyes.
Miller likes the way the Black Cats boss has given young players opportunities throughout his managerial career and with Sunderland’s injury list growing by the week, it is a chance for the club’s U23 talent to play their way into first-team contention.
The likes of Elliott Embleton, who scored in the U23’s previous tie at Rochdale, the Robsons, Josh Maja, George Brady, Rees Greenwood and others will all be able to strut their stuff tonight against the League Two outfit.
“A match like this will be good experience for the Sunderland kids,” said the midfielder, who played a total of exactly 1,000 senior games for eight clubs in an 18-year career.
“David Moyes is a manager who is not afraid to play young talent – Lynden Gooch has had some game-time already.
“Look at his time in particular at Everton, if he sees something in a player he’ll be brave and pick them. I think he’ll do that here.
“Moyes has been chucked in at the deep end to an extent after the FA came in for Sam Allardyce.
“He had little time left to get in the players he probably wanted and now they’ve not had the greatest of starts and have injuries mounting up I think he’ll look at the youngsters.
“They have a chance here to show what they can do.”
Miller, who played the entire season during the ignominious 2005-06 record-breaking run – for the wrong reasons – under Mick McCarthy, says he has been horrified by the struggles encountered by a club still close to his heart.
“The season I played under Mick, he had no money to spend,” said the man from Shotton Colliery, who is assistant boss at ambitious non-league side Spennymoor.
“It was all done on the cheap and it was a struggle.
“When I played we were bottom and now a decade on, Sunderland are in the same position.
“What’s been spent? £100million and they are still struggling – just surviving, staying up with miracle late runs. I feel for the fans.
“Sunderland have very loyal supporters, they keep sticking with it – all they want is some sort of success, not struggling year-in, year-out.”
Miller played 35 times for the Black Cats before being moved on by Roy Keane in 2007. He scored three Premier League goals and his fine career spanned all four divisions, starting and ending, fittingly, at his beloved Pools.
Miller played 178 times for Pools, scoring 44 times.
Two came in an Auto Windscreens thriller against Preston in 1999 when he scored twice in normal time before Pools beat the Lilywhites 4-3 on penalties and he was at it again the following season with a goal against the same opposition as Chis Turner’s side won 2-1 at Deepdale.
Those results aside, the EFL trophy has not been overly kind to Pools.
Current boss Craig Hignett will not lose any sleep should Pools bow out of the competition given his focus is on League Two, where his side are 13th after a five-game unbeaten run.
But there is one thing missing so far at the Vic thisc season as Miller points out.
“Pools have not won at home yet,” he said. “They’ve been close a couple of times, but away they have been impressive and they had a great win at Grimsby on Saturday.
“Craig signed a few players in the summer and maybe it’s taken a bit of time for it all to gel. He’s been unlucky with injuries at the back, but from what I’ve seen they are doing all right.
“I know Craig would prefer to get the points but a win in the Checkatrade Trophy is going to be very welcome. There has been a lot said about the Premier League clubs fielding their Under 23 teams and I’m a bit unsure about what I think about it.
“But Pools v Sunderland is a good occasion for the club and hopefully it will be a great night.”