Goalkeeper - Jason Steele
Jason Steele was reinstated by Simon Grayson for the Ipswich away fixture ahead of his fellow new recruit Robbin Ruiter. And, whilst neither man appears to be able to take the initiative over the other, it would be safe to assume that former Boro stopper Steele will hold his place in the side - for this weekend, at least.
Steele has conceded seven goals in his last two games and doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. If he has another shocker this weekend we’ll probably see even more chopping and changing between the sticks until Grayson finds the right fit.
Left Back - Adam Matthews
Though Bryan Oviedo would seem like the better option in this role, Grayson has tried Matthews at left back a few times recently and he’s turned in some fairly decent performances.
Because Oviedo has been away with his country on international duty and isn’t expected to return to Wearside until late in the week, it seems more likely that Grayson will stick with Matthews having had the time to work with the former Celtic defender on the training pitch during the break.
Centre Half - John O’Shea
O’Shea was one of the standout players against Preston and we looked more assured having had his presence in the backline, so I’d expect that he starts again this weekend. Though he’s been away with the Republic of Ireland, O’Shea never made it off the bench for his country and, provided there have been no issues in training, it’s expected he’ll return fully-fit and ready to play again on Saturday.
Centre Half - Tyias Browning
It’s about time we started developing some partnerships around the pitch, so it makes no sense really to drop Tyias Browning having seen how he performed alongside John O’Shea down at Preston.
Lamine Kone won’t arrive back from international duty until late in the week, Marc Wilson has been carrying a knock, and whilst Jack Rodwell has decided he’d like to try his hand as a central defender I wouldn’t expect him to be ousting anyone from the starting line up just yet.
Right Back - Billy Jones
Despite having not played particularly well, Billy Jones has featured fairly regular under Grayson and I don’t envisage us making even more changes to our back four, particularly after the manager seemed pleased with what he saw when we took on his old side before the break.
Central Midfield - Lee Cattermole
Cattermole had an improved showing down at Deepdale, and the manager likes him. Paddy McNair is nowhere near a return and Darron Gibson clearly isn’t fancied - his place in the side is pretty much guaranteed most weeks.
Central Midfield - Dider Ndong
Ndong was my man of the match down at Preston and though he won’t return back until late in the week from his time with Gabon, we cannot afford to not play him as he’s the only energetic central midfielder that we have.
Central Attacking Midfield - Aiden McGeady
Aiden McGeady played in behind James Vaughan in our last outing in an attempt to get more bodies around the Sunderland lone-man and, in fairness, you could say that it worked. The Irishman scored from a central position and as he’s our biggest goal threat, it makes sense to have him around Vaughan so that he can pick up on loose balls and cause problems when running at defenders.
Left Midfield - George Honeyman
This is perhaps a more controversial choice, particularly when we have Duncan Watmore back and available, but George Honeyman has been pretty much ever-present under Simon Grayson - and he scored last time out. With McGeady roaming around the attack, it makes more sense to have a player in that front three that can drop in and help out Cattermole and Ndong when we are defending.
Right Midfield - Callum McManaman
Grayson said yesterday in his interview with SAFC.com that the time away from playing in the Championship had benefited McManaman’s fitness in particular. Having put in plenty of hours on the training pitch during the break, the former Wigan winger is now ready to be starting games on a more regular basis. It seems slightly unfair to drop Lynden Gooch but we need the dynamism that McManaman offers us from an attacking perspective, particularly in such a must win game.
Striker - James Vaughan
Though Duncan Watmore is back in full training and has played some football for both the first team and the U23s, Simon Grayson has been keen to temper expectation when it comes to just throwing him back in. I doubt that he’ll be entrusted to start games just yet, particularly as the next few weeks are going to be so busy.
Vaughan had a canny enough game at Preston and without any real threat for his position, I severely doubt he’ll be dropped.