Sunderland head coach drops major team selection hint ahead of Port Vale clash

Lee Johnson is set to rotate his Sunderland side as they begin their Carabao Cup campaign at Port Vale on Tuesday night.

Josh Hawkes is one of a number of Sunderland youngsters who could feature at Port Vale
Josh Hawkes is one of a number of Sunderland youngsters who could feature at Port Vale

While the Black Cats boss says he will pick a side strong enough to win the game, he has underlined that League One promotion is the absolute priority for the club this year.

As such, he is eager to ensure he carefully manages his senior players ahead of two challenging away games over the next week.

That will almost certainly lead to opportunities for a number of young players at Vale Park. Ollie Younger and Josh Hawkes are likely to be involved, while Kenton Richardson could also be given a chance to impress.

"We want to win the game, so it's about getting that balance between being competitive and resting people who might need it," Johnson said.

"It's not so much about the key players or the names but the minutes, obviously Aiden had his knee injection recently as people know.

"At the same time, I know what Aiden is like and the best way to get him fit is to keep him ticking over and keep getting him some minutes.

"But we'll have a look at him, Corry Evans, Ross Stewart, but obviously we have got players and particularly young players who can come in.

"I'll speak to all our specialists and take the decisions from there.

"It's a game we want to win because we want that winning culture.

"We want to focus on the league, there's absolutely no doubt about that. I think that last year the cup win was really big for us, but we really must prioritise the league in every action that we do this year."

Port Vale Darrell Clarke is also set to make a number of changes from the side that lost 1-0 to Tranmere Rovers on opening day.

Asked if he would name a full-strength side, he said: "I think I have 21 good contracted players at the club, so I don’t see it that way.

“There will be changes but, for me, the lads have got to come in and want to win the game.

“We haven’t got young lads as such have we? We have lads that have plenty enough experience to be able to come in and perform."