Martin O'Neill has challenged his fringe players to prove themselves as Sunderland attempt to book their place in the Capital One Cup fourth-round draw.
The Black Cats head for League One MK Dons this evening with the manager knowing he will have little choice but to make changes despite his desire to field as strong a side as possible.
But having seen his team pass up the opportunity to secure an FA Cup semi-final day out at Wembley last season, he is urging them not to miss out a second time as they prepare for a potentially tricky tie.
O'Neill said: "They [MK Dons] are a strong side who are going very well. It would be a difficult game anyway even if we had everyone to choose from, and we might have to make a couple of enforced changes.
"I really don't like doing that if at all possible, especially this early in the season. But things are forced upon us and we will try to compete as strongly as possible.
"We need people stepping up to the mark and coming in. Some players might feel they should be in the side. Their contribution is of paramount importance if we are going to try to get through.
"I'm hoping that throughout the whole season, players are always having to try and prove something, and I think we do that anyway both as players and managers.
"If it ever got to the stage where we feel we have nothing to prove, that would be a concern."
O'Neill is not convinced central defender Titus Bramble can play another 90 minutes so soon after doing so in Saturday's 1-1 Barclays Premier League draw at West Ham, while midfielder Sebastian Larsson limped off at Upton Park with a hamstring injury which is likely to sideline him.
Striker Fraizer Campbell, who might have been handed a rare start, is instead nursing a foot problem, while winger Adam Johnson has returned to training after a thigh strain, but may not be risked.
The Black Cats, who have sold more than 2,000 tickets for the game at Stadium MK, safely negotiated their second-round tie, in which Johnson and fellow newcomer Steven Fletcher made their debuts, by beating League Two Morecambe 2-0.
O'Neill said: "It's a cup competition we would like to stay in having put on a decent performance against Morecambe a couple of weeks ago with a pretty strong side. I wouldn't want to bow out meekly.
"Milton Keynes have nothing to lose and they want to play against a Barclays Premier League side. The possibility of winning the game must have given them a major lift.
"From our own viewpoint, I will reiterate that we will be as strong as we possibly can be."