John Sheridan has pledged to play his strongest possible team in a bid to progress in the controversial Checkatrade Trophy tonight.

Carlisle host Stoke’s Under-21s (Brunton Park, 7.45pm) needing a win to be certain of group-stage qualification.

Sheridan told the News & Star he would not be making wholesale changes due to the importance of the game.

“I will be playing as strong a team as I can,” the United boss said.

“It’s our best chance of getting to Wembley and I’ve told the players I want to win this game as much as we won [Saturday’s FA Cup game at Crewe].”

He added: “I’m fortunate as a manager to have won it before and once you get there it’s a good competition and can earn you a few quid.

“I’m going to take it very seriously. Stoke have got to win and we’ve got to win. Hopefully it will be an entertaining game and we’ll come out winners.”

Anthony Gerrard and Jamie Devitt will have knocks assessed.

Aside from the action tonight, scrutiny will again fall on the attendance at Brunton Park.

Some fans are continuing to boycott the Trophy because of the involvement of Premier League and Championship clubs in what used to be a competition solely for lower-league sides.

Five of Brunton Park’s nine all-time lowest crowds have come in this competition since the change of format in 2016. The Blues’ smallest ever home gate is 859 for the visit of Hartlepool in the Autoglass Trophy in 1992.

Several clubs have already seen record low home crowds in the Checkatrade this season.

Sheridan, meanwhile, said he will continue to closely monitor Hallam Hope after his return from injury.

The frontman made his comeback with an 81-minute outing in the FA Cup win at Crewe.

That follows a hamstring injury sustained shortly after Hope returned from Barbados international duty.

Barbados are back in action this Sunday against the US Virgin Islands in the Concacaf Nations League.

Whether Hope could return to represent the Bajan side, Sheridan said: “We’ll have to see how he is, fitness-wise.

“When he goes, it’s a long journey so we’ve got to be careful with him.”

On the striker’s outing against Crewe, the United boss added: “We took him off [towards the end] because he hasn’t trained too much at a match tempo, so we were wary of him lasting the game.

“He was starting to get into the game a little bit when we took him off but it was just precautionary - we’ve got to be careful with his injury.”