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International break offers struggling Sunderland space to regroup, though seven players are away

Sunderland may be second bottom of the Championship, but an improved performance yesterday gives Simon Grayson something to work on during the international break. Though, key first team members are away with their respective countries.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Premier League Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Whilst injuries haven’t helped, Simon Grayson’s relentless churn of the Sunderland squad hasn’t enabled the Black Cats to settle on a ‘best’ starting XI or formation as yet with a quarter of the season now almost completed.

But with the Championship halting for another break next weekend to allow for a fresh round of international fixtures, the Sunderland boss has an opportunity to assess his walking wounded and work on a few systems on the training pitch.

The games came thick and fast during September with the Black Cats playing seven times in the space of three weeks, and experiments with back threes and front pairings have yet to be perfected as training days have been dominated by recovery work and patching up injuries.

With almost two weeks until the next game - a home match against QPR - Grayson will have some time to set about gelling his stuttering side ahead of a decent run of fixtures in October which might just save him his job.

The only trouble being, seven of the Sunderland squad are heading off on international duty this week to various parts of the globe. So who is where?

Everton v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Third Round
Didier Ndong at Everton last week
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

The African pairing of Lamine Kone and Didier Ndong will clock up the most airmiles. The former will be with the Ivory Coast squad for a World Cup qualifier away to Mali on Friday, with the game being played in West Africa.

Kone hasn’t played a minute of international football since last November, missing through injury or inhabiting the Côte d'Ivoire bench - much like he did for yesterday’s visit to Preston.

Ndong has been selected for the Gabonese squad which faces Morocco on Saturday after missing his country’s last pair of games seemingly because of a row over the side’s captaincy.

The game will be played in Casablanca and Gabon can boost their chances of making Russia 2018 with a victory over the Moroccans, who sit second in the qualifying group, just a point ahead of them.

No stranger to a long-haul flight, Bryan Oviedo travels to his home country of Costa Rica for a game versus Honduras. The Ticos look a good bet for World Cup qualification and can guarantee themselves a place in Russia with a victory.

Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier
Bryan Oviedo playing for Costa Rica last month
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Aiden McGeady, John O’Shea and Jonny Williams are the trio of Black Cats named in British Isles squads.

McGeady and O'Shea will be with the Republic of Ireland camp for Friday’s make-or-break fixture against Moldova. Martin O’Neill’s men need to win to reduce their now outside 10/1 chance of making the World Cup.

Williams has been named in the Wales squad, as Chris Coleman’s side aims to snatch a qualifying spot via the play-offs by finishing second in Group D ahead of the Irish. The Sunderland midfielder hasn’t ventured beyond the Welsh bench since Euro 2016 and will likely resume his spot as substitute at best.

Republic of Ireland v Wales - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier
Aiden McGeady training with the Irish squad
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Elsewhere there was no place for Darron Gibson in the Irish 32, whilst right-back Adam Matthews continues to be overlooked by the Welsh.

Joel Asoro is away with the Swedish U21s as they kick off qualifying for the European Championships, a competition which will be hosted by Italy and San Marino in 2019. The Swedes play away in Belgium on Friday before a home game versus Malta a week on Tuesday.

Asoro hasn’t played much competitive football this season, with a couple of late introductions off the bench in the Championship, similar in the EFL Cup and just one outing for the U23s.

Max Stryjek - on loan at Accrington - is still injured and won’t feature for the Polish U21s.

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