Sunderland boss Simon Grayson has stated that he had one eye on the Black Cats' weekend Championship fixture against Cardiff City whilst picking his squad for Wednesday night's Carabao Cup defeat to Everton.
The Wearsiders made six changes from their 1-1 draw with Hull City last Saturday ahead of the trip to Goodison Park, and the lack of quality was evident throughout the most part, with the Toffees controlling proceedings and in the end cruising to a dominant victory.
A brace either side of half time from Dominic Calvert-Lewin and a well-taken third by substitute Oumar Niasse was enough for Ronald Koeman's side to advance through to the fourth round with ease.
However, Sunderland are unable to dwell on their lacklustre showing at Everton for long, with the visit of Championship high-flyers Cardiff City next on the agenda at the Stadium of Light, and Grayson admitted his Wednesday night team selection was tailored more so with that fixture in mind.
“It was always going to be difficult with the team we put out – we certainly had one eye on the weekend”, the 47-year-old told the Sunderland Echo.
“That’s the difference, because Premier League sides can make changes because of the strength in depth and the players that they have.
“I think Everton were very respectful with the team that they put out, and who they had on the bench in case anything went wrong for them. We know we could have done better, but we are very low on numbers due to injuries, with the lads who aren’t available, and with one eye on the weekend.
“The gameplan was to keep it nice and tight, nice and solid, but the goal just before half-time obviously gave them a lift and rocked us a little bit.
“Up to then, we were quite comfortable, but then the game opened up a bit and we were punished for mistakes.
“No matter who you are playing against – but especially Premier League players – if you give them time and space inside the box, they are going to punish you.”
Grayson's final statement rang true particularly with 20-year-old Everton striker Calvert-Lewin, who was on hand to punish two counts of woeful Black Cats defending.
However, the Ripon-born manager believes it was not down to his players' lack of effort, but more so the skill and quality that the young English frontman possesses.
“He’s a talented player, there’s no doubt about that”, the Sunderland boss added.
“He’s one of the most promising youngsters around, I think, and he was a handful for us.
“I think just, in general, we allowed him and other players too much time in the box and that was why we got punished. It wasn’t lack of effort.
“We wanted to take the game to them a bit more and the changes we made later on in the game proved that we had better players coming off the bench. It was disappointing though, because, regardless of what team we put out, we wanted to make more of a contest of it and win the game.”
Sunderland now have to force Wednesday's below par showing out of their minds and prepare for the arguably must-win clash with Cardiff on Saturday.
However, it is unlikely that many, if any, of the six personnel who came into the side did enough to stake a claim for a starting spot this weekend.
“There were some OK performances", Grayson concluded.
“I thought Darron Gibson did OK on the ball, we were better when Williams and McManaman came on, but it was that balance of keeping them fresh for the weekend because of the schedule we have got with playing Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday again next week.”
The Black Cats will now potentially be thankful they have one less game to worry about, with the fixtures again piling up before the international break, and Grayson will be hopeful that with his side's entire focus now placed onto the league they are able to finally grab their first three points at home in 2017.