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OPINION: Does anyone know what Sunderland’s strongest starting eleven actually is?

We head into the game desperately needing three points today, with many pertinent questions about the suitability of certain players and the manager’s strongest team still unanswered.

Bury v Sunderland - Carabao Cup First Round Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

I don't need to spell it out to anyone - we head into this today's game at home to Cardiff City needing to win; for a whole multitude of reasons, but simply put, we are desperate for the three points and I for one, don't care how we get them.

After playing eight league matches so far and winning only once, Sunderland find themselves one point above the drop zone, with only Brentford, Birmingham and Bolton below us in the table.

As we head into the Cardiff game, Simon Grayson has yet again got decisions to make.

He made six changes for the cup game at Goodison in mid-week, with none of the boys coming in making a real impact to show that they should be starting in the league come Saturday afternoon, which is a crying shame.

Those on the periphery of the first XI should be busting a gut to perform and propel themselves into the forefront of the mind of the manager. Sadly, most fans had written off our chances against Everton on Wednesday night before a ball was kicked, and it would appear that some of the players did so too. If we can't get motivated for a match that clogs up our fixture programme, then how can the players? Sure, it is Grayson's job to do that, but he'd be lying if he said he didn't already have one eye on Cardiff.

Everton v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Third Round
Will Grayson make changes for the visit of Cardiff City?
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Simon Grayson still doesn't know his strongest starting eleven.

We'd all love to see a fully-fit Aiden McGeady causing problems on the left, and Callum McManaman influencing proceedings on the right, but of course, that hasn't yet materialized. We have Duncan Watmore almost ready for action too. Grayson seems to be a big fan of George Honeyman, the local lad being used in all but one of our matches this season. I believe there is still a decision to made concerning Jason Steele and Robbin Ruiter, although the big Dutchman seems to have the nod at the moment.

Jack Rodwell and Darron Gibson certainly haven't done enough to force their way into a starting berth, which is also a little disappointing. Neither have endeared themselves to the Wearside faithful in their time here either. After having won only once in the league this season, the pair are no nearer to being thrust into action from the beginning of a game, which from my perspective is hugely disappointing.

They have a lot of experience in the game - most of it at the highest level. Rodwell has been injured, yes, but Simon Grayson will be frustrated at the lack of impact the two have made in the opening two months of the season.

A lot has been made recently about our midfield options, particularly around whether Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong can actually play well enough together in the middle of the park and whether or not that partnership remains a viable one as we find ourselves almost a quarter of the way through the campaign.

Obviously, the shape of the side has a massive say in how we play.

I was disappointed with Ndong's performance at home to Forest last week; he didn't influence the game as much as we'd all like, particularly in an attacking sense, and I felt he expended his energy in the wrong areas of the pitch. In order to get the best out of him we need to utilize those workmanlike qualities better, getting him to press higher up the pitch when we don't have the ball, particularly at home, and also getting him on the ball in more advanced areas.

He only has one goal for Sunderland in 43 appearances, and that is a statistic that Simon Grayson will need him to improve upon. He has it in his locker and we know he has footballing ability. Whether or not he's struggling for confidence which his impacting his form, we don't know. Winning football matches is the only tonic I'm aware of for improving both squad and supporter morale, and with only Lynden Gooch putting any sort of pressure on both Cattermole and Ndong, pairing the two together may be something that the manager persists with a little longer.

Livingston v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly
Didier Ndong's work rate and energy needs to be better utilized by SAFC
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

This weekend's game is a massive one, as they all seem to have become this season in the league. Marc Wilson, if fit, will surely slot into the back four. Will Grayson continue with Adam Matthews at right-back? Will Ty Browning remain sidelined? Williams and McManaman will be welcomed back with open arms; their creativity and craft will be key to unlocking The Bluebirds' defence. James Vaughan will once again lead the attack, grabbing his first goal in red and white at Hull last Saturday will have helped him immensely. Let's hope he can continue to find the old onion bag in the weeks ahead. Simon Grayson has a lot to ponder and stew over once again, as he tries to find a winning formula against Neil Warnock's well drilled Cardiff City side.

"We will win, it'll happen sooner or later", said Grayson yesterday. "I know that without a shadow of doubt because we have a good group of players here who are desperate to do well. Let's hope it starts tomorrow."

Yes Simon, you aren't the only one who is hoping and praying, we all are. We need the points and we don't care how we get them. It's over to you. We wait with bated breath.

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