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STARTING XI: TWO CHANGES - Is this the Sunderland side that will take on Doncaster tonight?

Sunderland go into tonight’s game on the back of two wins in League One but, despite this, changes to Jack Ross’ side are likely to be made. What team will he pick? We have a go at guessing what he’ll do.

Image: Getty Images

Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin

The Scotland international secured his second clean-sheet of the season against Shrewsbury on Saturday - a mixture of stout defending and glaring misses by the opposition allowed McLaughlin to leave the field with his first shut-out on the road.

There is hope that he and his defenders can repeat the feat tonight.

Sunderland fans know they have players to create and score goals, but they also know the last line of defence is far more assured than last season. Gone are the groans as the opposition striker bears down on the hapless custodian of the Sunderland goal and now there is genuine belief that clean sheets mean three points.

Image: Getty Images

Defence: Adam Matthews, Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin, Reece James

With a number of defenders still out injured, the likelihood is the back four will pick itself again tonight. Denver Hume, Glenn Loovens and Donald Love are still some way from returning to the side, whilst Bryan Oviedo serves the final game of his three-match ban for a straight red against Peterborough at the start of the month.

Tom Flanagan has perhaps been the one to impress in recent weeks. Whilst he can play anywhere across the back line, he is normally deployed at full-back or as part of a three-man defence. Yet his partnership with Jack Baldwin has been a key factor in Sunderland’s recent success.

In fact, there is an argument that Flanagan’s emergence has covered for a dip in form from the former Peterborough captain. Perhaps the change in formation has also accounted for Baldwin’s recent displays, as he has tended to look for a more direct ball to the forwards whilst both Max Power and George Honeyman have been absent from the starting XI. Yet Baldwin has recorded a goal and a clean sheet in that time. It's actually quite refreshing to have a player dip in form and still remain an effective part of the side.

Alongside the centre-halves, Adam Matthews and Reece James will continue in their roles as orthodox full-backs. Against a strong home side, their defensive duties will be key, as will their ability to provide width for our attacks.

Three quarters of Sunderland’s defence warming up
Image: Getty Images

Defensive Midfield: Lee Cattermole, Dylan McGeough

With Max Power still suspended, the Cattermole-McGeough partnership will likely take to the pitch again tonight.

Dylan McGeough continues to quietly go about his business, whilst Lee Cattermole captained the side to victory on Saturday. The armband may be relinquished tonight, but that is a mere outward sign, as Cattermole continues to provide leadership from within the engine room.

Much has been said of these two and much expected. More is yet to come from both players and, if Sunderland are to emerge successful from this season, they will have played their parts. Tonight can be a huge step to securing a top two place, if both Cattermole and McGeough can control the midfield.

Dylan McGeough supporting Tom Flanagan on Saturday
Image: Getty Images

Attacking Midfield: Chris Maguire, Lynden Gooch, George Honeyman

Given his comments regarding the impact of Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman on Saturday, I’m expecting Ross to make a couple of changes to the attacking midfield contingent.

Gooch set up both Sunderland goals with his direct style and, freed from defensive duties as a wing-back, impressed in driving Sunderland forward. The former Doncaster loanee will be keen to start tonight and I suspect he’ll get the nod, perhaps at the expense of Aiden McGeady.

The Irishman has returned to the side very well, but after four months out, he is bound to feel the effects from time to time. His performance on Saturday was perhaps not to his usual standard and with another game on Saturday, I will suggest he is rested tonight.

George Honeyman could well come into the side too. His presence may be key to keeping a strong midfield when out of possession, dropping deep to support Cattermole and McGeough. At the same time, the presence of the captain may allow Sunderland to retain possession and play out from the back.

George Honeyman is likely to captain the side today
Image: Getty Images

Striker: Jerome Sinclair

The inclusion of Honeyman could come at the expense of top scorer Josh Maja. It may sound a risk, to drop your nine-goal striker, but the teenager is carrying an ankle injury. Like McGeady, three games inside a week may be asking a lot of Maja and whilst tonight may have been the one to keep him in the line-up for, his performance on Saturday was not highly effective.

Replaced on 54 minutes for the influential Lynden Gooch, Maja may see his place go to Jerome Sinclair tonight.

That will mean a change in role for the on-loan Watford man, moving from an attacking midfield position to leading the line. A goal against Peterborough at the start of the month will have boosted his confidence, as will his consistent selection for a starting place.

Ross could do worse than ask him to play as the lone striker, supported by Gooch and Chris Maguire, whilst allowing Maja a chance to rest before we entertain Southend United on Saturday.

Jerome Sinclair opened his account against Peterborough on October 2nd
Image: Getty Images

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