Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Jon McLaughlin sat out both international games Scotland played during Sunderland’s break from league action. Allan McGregor kept goal for Alex McLeish’s side during their 2-1 defeat against Israel, whilst former Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon was preferred as Portugal beat the Scots 3-1 three days later.
Jack Ross confirmed on Thursday that McLaughlin had returned to Sunderland unscathed and will challenge Robbin Ruiter for the jersey today.
Ruiter performed well in the Checkatrade cup-tie against Carlisle, but the likelihood is the big Scot will resume duties between the sticks this weekend. In putting his disappointment at not being selected behind him, all Sunderland fans will be hoping he can secure a second clean-sheet of the season at the New Meadow.
Defence: Adam Matthews, Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin, Reece James
Jack Ross didn’t make too many changes in defence for the visit of Carlisle, and it is likely there will be only one today.
Alim Öztürk replaced Tom Flanagan on October 9th, but the Northern Ireland international will no doubt return to the side this afternoon. The former Burton defender was twice an unused substitute for his country, as former Sunderland players Jonny Evans and Paddy McNair occupied his favoured central defence and right-back positions respectively. However, such is his influence in a red and white shirt that he will likely start today.
With Glenn Loovens still unavailable and due back in training next week, Flanagan and Jack Baldwin will continue to develop their central partnership. Baldwin has arguably been Sunderland’s best defender this season, but he will have to sharpen up after coming under a little criticism for recent performances. His goal last time out, against Bradford, will no doubt be a huge boost to his confidence.
Adam Matthews and Reece James will be the preferred full-back options in the absence of Bryan Oviedo (suspended), Denver Hume and Donald Love (both injured). Both Matthews and James are out of contract at the end of the season and will need to take every opportunity afforded to them to stake a claim for new deals in the coming months.
Defensive Midfield: Lee Cattermole, Dylan McGeough
Lee Cattermole returned to the side against Bradford following his one-game ban and resumed his effective partnership with Max Power in the heart of the Sunderland midfield. Unfortunately Power received his second card of the campaign on 66 minutes, leaving him ineligible for today’s trip to New Meadow.
Thankfully Jack Ross has, on paper, a number of options available to him. Ethan Robson and Dylan McGeough started against Carlisle, whilst Luke O’Nien replaced the injured Robson on the night. Bali Mumba may have played some part had he not been away with England’s U18 side, so it will be intriguing to see how Ross uses his defensive-midfield contingent in the coming months.
With Power missing, it’s likely Dylan McGeough will continue in midfield today with Lee Cattermole alongside him. Whilst the pairing may not have hit the same heights as the Cattermole-Power partnership, the Scot represents a huge piece in Jack Ross’ plans for the future.
The reports from Hibs fans accompanying McGeough’s signing have not been proved accurate yet, as Ross protected the Scottish international during his recovery from a pre-season injury, but hopefully the best is yet to come. If McGeough can find his form, as indeed Cattermole has, then Sunderland’s midfield will be very well stocked for the busy Christmas period just around the corner.
Attacking Midfield: Chris Maguire, Aiden McGeady, George Honeyman
Perhaps the biggest debate for Jack Ross is whether to retain George Honeyman, following his return to the starting XI against Carlisle, select Jerome Sinclair, who played the last league game at Bradford, or bring Lynden Gooch straight back into the side following injury. Of course, for the latter to happen, Ross would have to revert to a formation which utilises wing-backs.
If we expect Jack Ross to resume league action by deploying the recently effective 4-2-3-1 formation, then it’s likely George Honeyman will start today. Whilst Sinclair has started to show his ability in recent games, Honeyman made a goal-scoring return against Carlisle and much has been made recently of his role within the side. As captain, Ross has invested a great deal in the academy product, and this makes him the likely option today.
Both Sinclair and Gooch will provide competition elsewhere, of course, but it’s likely that they will have to make their impacts by coming off the bench.
Chris Maguire and Aiden McGeady are surely Jack Ross’ key players again today. Maguire has been a revelation in a Sunderland shirt, bar a small blip a month ago, whilst McGeady is arguably Sunderland’s most creative attacker and has returned from injury to find decent form in supporting the attack.
Striker: Josh Maja
Josh Maja, with nine goals and one assist from 12 league games so far, will return today having missed the Carlisle cup tie with a niggling injury. In his absence, young Benji Kimpioka let no-one down and is certainly one to keep an eye on.
The young Swede scored on his debut and is a talent to match Bali Mumba. Both teenagers will be handled well by Ross and his staff, with their development one of the management team’s priorities.
Yet it is easy to forget that Maja is not much older himself. With much expected of Charlie Wyke and perhaps the returning Duncan Watmore in the months to come, Maja has served notice that he isn’t about to roll over and let anyone take his place. Today is another opportunity for the young man to add to his developing reputation.