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STARTING XI: ANY CHANGES? Is this the Sunderland side that will take on Southend this afternoon?

Sunderland have won three on the bounce and have kept two clean sheets in their last two - will Jack Ross make changes to his successful side or will he stick with the team that did well at Doncaster?

Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin

The man signed from Hearts in the summer is week by week starting to show exactly why he was regarded as the best goalkeeper in Scotland last season, and another impressive performance against Doncaster in midweek means that there’s absolutely no doubting that he’ll retain his place in the side this afternoon at the Stadium of Light.

His performances are finally being rewarded with clean sheets, and you can bet he’ll want to ensure he keeps another one today - although, he’ll be hoping he doesn’t need to be making any last-ditch saves due to lapses in concentration from the defence and midfield in front of him.

McLaughlin was in fine form again on Tuesday evening
Image: Getty Images

Defence: Matthews, Flanagan Baldwin & James

Bryan Oviedo’s suspension is over, Donald Love is fit again and Glenn Loovens is back in training, but there’s absolutely no need to change a defence that is holding firm and keeping clean sheets.

The one positive that you can draw from having all of these players available again going into this game is that it should keep the defenders that Jack Ross does pick on their toes - they’ve laid down a marker now having kept a number of clean sheets, and the next step is to improve on that and strengthen their relationship on the pitch.

If anyone has a particularly bad game, they’ll know coming away from it that their place in the side could be under threat - and to me that can only be a good thing.

Tom Flanagan has been part of the strong Sunderland defence on the road
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Defensive Midfield: Cattermole & McGeough

The one player that seems to be coming in for a bit of stick from some fans is Dylan McGeouch and, in fairness, you can see why.

He’s not playing badly but he’s also not standing out from the pack like many supporters had expected that he would, so the hope going into today’s game is that he can have a defining game in order to reaffirm the expectation that he’d be one of Sunderland’s most important players this season.

He’s got Luke O’Nien breathing down his neck, and I have to admit that I’ve been impressed with the enthusiastic midfielder in recent weeks. He plays a completely different role to McGeough, of course, but it can’t be denied that he’s added something extra to our side in recent games when coming on late.

He won’t come in today, though, and alongside McGeouch will of course be Lee Cattermole, who is one of the first names on the teamsheet and almost certainly plays every game unless he’s injured or suspended. And, as he’s on 8 yellow cards for the season, he’s got to be careful as two more of those will see him pick up a two-game ban.

Lee Cattermole will be key to winning today’s midfield battle
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Attack: Maguire, Honeyman, Gooch & Sinclair

Jack Ross made two changes to his attacking line for the trip to Doncaster and it came good, but with quality options in his squad it will be interesting to see if he opts to stick with the same side or make further alterations.

In truth, it makes little sense to change a winning side unless it’s completely necessary. We didn’t create a great deal down at Doncaster but on a bigger pitch, in front of a home crowd, it’ll be a completely different game.

You have to factor in that Josh Maja has hardly trained this week too. He’s a fantastic asset to our side but Jerome Sinclair did very well in his absence in midweek, so it’s more than likely that the Watford loanee will remain as the man leading the line this afternoon.

Lynden Gooch was a huge factor in Chris Maguire’s winning goal on Tuesday, and his return to the side has been a welcome one. The only contentious decision will be over whether George Honeyman retains his spot - if Maja is deemed fit enough to play and Ross wants to go with two up top, the Sunderland captain is the man most likely to miss out.

Jerome Sinclair will be looking to add to the goal he scored during our last home game,
Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

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