Defending champions Sunderland head into their EFL Trophy fixture with Manchester United Under-21s knowing that defeat would put them on the brink of elimination.
However, the visitors find themselves in a similar position, and anything less than three points would put the Premier League academy side at risk of an early exit.
Sunderland’s focus this season is on securing promotion to the Championship, and seven wins from 10 league fixtures suggests that they have every chance of achieving that target.
Nevertheless, the Black Cats supporters would not say no to a trip to Wembley Stadium having had to miss last season’s victory in this competition due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Drawn in a highly-competitive group, Sunderland recorded a 2-1 victory over Lincoln City last time out to post a potentially-crucial three points.
With a home fixture against Bradford City still to come, Johnson will be confident of eventually sealing a spot in the top two of Group F.
However, there is pressure to perform against United’s prospects, particularly with Johnson still frustrated after the 4-0 reverse at Portsmouth earlier this month.
From United’s perspective, a slow start against Lincoln on August 24 has left them playing catch-up, but netting two consolation goals at the end of that game gave them some momentum ahead of the trip to Bradford.
Neil Wood would have been delighted with their second-half performance at Valley Parade, United prevailing by a 3-0 scoreline at the home of the League Two side.
With Sunderland possessing a game in hand, United realistically require maximum points on their trip to the North East to extend their participation in the competition.
On a positive note, they have recorded four wins in succession, the latest success coming against Liverpool Under-23s at the start of the month.
Sunderland EFL Trophy form:
Sunderland form (all competitions):
Manchester United Under-21s EFL Trophy form:
Manchester United Under-21s form (all competitions):
We say: Sunderland 2-1 Manchester United Under-21s
Having made light work of Bradford, United will be confident of putting on a performance at the Stadium of Light. However, we cannot ignore the experience and desire of the home side, leading us to predict a narrow victory for the League One giants.