Goalkeeper: Robbin Ruiter
One of Simon Grayson’s last acts as Sunderland manager was to put Robbin Ruiter back in the team in place of Jason Steele, a decision that wasn’t entirely vindicated as the Dutchman turned out an underwhelming performance against Bolton on Tuesday.
That said, not many of the players on the pitch that night did themselves justice and Ruiter, under a new manager, deserves a chance to prove that he’s the best goalkeeper we have.
There’s a bit of romance there with Jason Steele, considering his connections to Middlesbrough and the fact he came up through their academy and subsequently their first team, but I’d rather Robbie Stockdale avoided making yet another change between the sticks if possible.
Left Back: Bryan Oviedo
It seems to be going rather unnoticed, but I strongly believe that Bryan Oviedo has been our most consistent outfield player so far this season. He retains his spot, with on-loan Everton defender Brendan Galloway settling for a place outside of the matchday squad yet again.
Centre Back: John O’Shea
Though I’d much rather we didn’t have to constantly revert to using John O’Shea, particularly over a stretch of games, I have absolutely zero faith in any other defender and I suspect that the same might apply to Robbie Stockdale’s thinking. O’Shea will keep his place and will lead the team out on Sunday.
Centre Back: Marc Wilson
Wilson came through his first 90 minutes for over a month against Bolton on Tuesday and will be looking for another start on Sunday. The summer signing failed to stamp his presence on the Black Cats defence as another three whistled past the Sunderland back-line but with Tyias Browning still out, it’s either him or Lamine Kone.
Right Back: Adam Matthews
Adam Matthews isn’t perfect but he’s the best of a bad bunch at present, and with him in the team, he offers balance down the right hand side. Finding him a partner on that flank is now key, as is ensuring we don’t keep swapping him out of the side in place of the hapless Billy Jones.
Central Midfield: Lee Cattermole
It’s a derby, against his old team. If Lee Cattermole can’t muster up the type of performance that earned him a reputation as a tough tackling, high-energy midfielder in this fixture then it really is the end of his once ferocious repute.
Central Midfield: Didier Ndong
The first name on the team sheet - Ndong has featured in over 90% of the minutes Sunderland have played in the Championship so far this season.
Central Attacking Midfield: Paddy McNair
With two sub-twenty minute appearances under his belt since returning from injury, McNair capped Tuesday with the goal which saved Sunderland’s blushes. After returning to the international fold, the Northern Irish midfielder will be chomping at the bit to start against Boro with the first World Cup Qualifier play-off game taking place on Thursday.
Left Midfield: Aiden McGeady
McGeady will hold the key to Sunderland getting a result - as has been so often the case already this season.
Right Midfield: Duncan Watmore
Still lacking end product on occasion, Watmore played the last half-hour on Tuesday and should benefit from the break as he continues to regain fitness.
Striker: Lewis Grabban
Eight goals now for a striker for whom Simon Grayson wasn’t able to play to his strengths - it’s been good going for Grabban since his loan move from Bournemouth. Hopefully Stockdale and McKinlay will find a way of improving the service to him beyond punted long balls.