This is how Sunderland boss Lee Johnson will approach Papa John's Trophy selection for Bradford City tie

Lee Johnson says the club's upcoming ten-day break will be a crucial period in getting some key players back to full fitness.
Sunderland forward Ross StewartSunderland forward Ross Stewart
Sunderland forward Ross Stewart

Johnson left striker Ross Stewart out of the matchday squad for the FA Cup first round defeat to Mansfield Town, revealing that the Scot had been playing with a shoulder complaint through the club's previous two league fixtures.

It underlined the 25-year-old's importance, given that despite that injury he was arguably the team's best performer in both.

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Stewart is highly unlikely to be involved in the final Papa John's Trophy group game against Bradford City on Tuesday night, as Johnson looks likely to give him time to fully recuperate ahead of what is now a crucial league fixture against Ipswich Town.

The Black Cats head coach believes a number of his other attacking players will also benefit from a chance to build up their fitness levels.

Aiden McGeady, for example, had his pre-season disrupted by injury and was also playing through the pain barrier in recent weeks.

"Ross has been struggling for three or four games, to be honest," Johnson said.

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"He took that big whack at QPR away, where he got bundled off the pitch and slid into the advertising boards.

"It was a really sore one on his shoulder, he was almost running around at Sheffield Wednesday like Pele in that scene from Escape to Victory.

"I think this period is for him, and a few of them actually, we've got a two-week period where we can design a programme.

"Aiden McGeady is a big player for us and I think he needs some fitness work.

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"We've got Alex Pritchard who has had a problem with his neck recently.

"Embleton, having missed three through suspension, will be better for the game today.

"We've got to really use these two weeks now to prepare for the Ipswich game."

Johnson will be unable to work with some of his key players during the break, with Tom Flanagan, Corry Evans, Callum Doyle, Dennis Cirkin and Dan Neil all away on international duty.

None of those players will be involved on Tuesday night.

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Will Harris and Ellis Taylor are likely to be involved, having been withdrawn at half time during Sunderland U23s 2-2 draw with Stoke City on Sunday afternoon.

Harrison Sohna, Stephen Wearne and Ollie Younger could all be in line to start, given that they were not involved in the game.

Arbenit Xhemajli played the full 90 minutes, strongly suggesting that he will not be involved.

"There's a lot of points to play for in the league and I'm 100% sure we'll turn it around," Johnson said of the break.

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"It is pretty tough in terms of the break because we've got a lot of internationals away, particularly when a lot of those have been key starters for us.

"We'll use the Bradford game to top up minutes for those who need it.

"We are already through but we want to build some momentum and win, and then we'll prepare as best we can with the players who are here, knowing most of the international lads won't be back until the day before the Ipswich game."