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Sunderland v Birmingham selection posers: recall Ndong & drop who? McGeady & Catts on the bench?

Chris Coleman has a little thinking to do over his team selection for tomorrow’s game with Birmingham.

Sunderland host relegation rivals Birmingham City on Saturday, seeking back-to-back wins for the first time in over a year.

Not since the David Moyes blip when the Black Cats beat Bournemouth and then Hull City last November have Sunderland managed to put two decent results together, but the floundering Blues represent a great chance to do just that.

Coleman has a handful of significant selection posers for this weekend’s game though, with Joel Asoro and Josh Maja banging on his door, Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong back available and a decision to make on whether to stick with a three-man central defence.

Cattermole, Ndong, Love, Maja - who would you put in the starting XI tomorrow?
Image: Sunderland AFC

Lamine Kone is out until mid-January and Paddy McNair is again missing, so the temptation will naturally be to stick with the side who beat Fulham last time out, but the Black Cats boss will be all too aware a narrow win against mid-table opposition does not herald a sure sign that he’s stumbled across Sunderland’s optimum line-up.

With three clean sheets in the five games since Coleman took over, operating with a trio of central defenders has reaped rewards and provided a firm footing on which to build.

Sunderland v Reading - Sky Bet Championship
John O’Shea is still proving useful in a three-man central defence.
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images,

Darron Gibson has excelled since being forced to operate as the anchor in midfield and as things stand, Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman have probably earned the right to start on Saturday.

However, Didier Ndong has got another week of training under his belt and has consistently proved he has the legs to motor in the middle of the park. The Gabon international has looked good when he’s been asked to play a little off-centre or pushed further up the pitch and may get the nod on Saturday.

Alternative options include Aiden McGeady who has been consigned to the bench for the last two and Callum McManaman who has yet to impress in a Sunderland shirt. The pair could cause some problems for a Brum defence who aren’t too bad but it would mean a change of system. Lee Cattermole will surely take up a seat on the bench after serving his suspension last weekend.

Aston Villa v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Aiden McGeady has been dumped in Chris Coleman’s current system
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Up front, Lewis Grabban is largely undroppable because of his goal scoring return this season, whilst James Vaughan may be afforded the opportunity to busy himself amongst the Birmingham defence.

That said, the Blues centre halves are actually pretty strong in the air which may negate the impact of the former Bury man. Could Coleman be tempted to launch Josh Maja at Brum from the start? It would be a risk.

Something like this, then?

So it’s a return to the Stadium of Light for Birmingham boss Steve Cotterill - 14 new players arrived at St Andrews in the summer, and the ex-Sunderland assistant is increasingly under pressure to bring about a change of fortunes quickly. A defeat tomorrow may bring down the curtain on his brief tenure.