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Starting XI: ONE CHANGE - is this the Sunderland side that will take on Barnsley this evening?

Is this the Sunderland starting eleven that will take to the field tonight as promotion rivals Barnsley roll into town? With O’Nien, Maguire and Sinclair all pushing for starts, Jack Ross has some tough decisions to make as we head into a huge game.

Image: Getty Images

Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin

Scottish international Jon McLaughlin will have been disappointed that Sunderland have conceded first in their last two league games and had to come from behind to snatch a point on both occasions.

He will know that the firm base provided by keeping the opposition at bay has allowed Sunderland to grow into the game, remain patient, and eventually pick off teams to secure victory.

Tonight, McLaughlin will be well aware of the threat Barnsley pose and will be keen to keep a clean sheet against a side similarly intent on an immediate return to the Championship.

He will be hoping, like the rest of us, that our offensive players maintain their record of scoring in every game to extend the gap between the two sides.

Mexico v Scotland - International Friendly
Jon McLaughlin will be hoping for a clean sheet tonight
Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

Defence: Matthews, Flanagan, Baldwin, James

Despite conceding twice against Walsall at the weekend, the Sunderland back four is likely to remain unchanged. There may have been a few moments in recent weeks where the defence has been stretched, but tonight’s game calls for calm heads and experience.

In Adam Matthews and Tom Flanagan, two seasoned international players, Sunderland can call on players who have played in pressure games at the highest level. Alongside them, Jack Baldwin continues to read the division and our opponents well, whilst Reece James has secured promotion with Wigan and knows what it takes to play in league-winning teams.

The quartet have built up an understanding in recent weeks and Jack Ross will call on those relationships to keep Sunderland’s unbeaten run intact.

Barnsley, on paper, were arguably our toughest opponents this month when the fixtures were assessed and, coming so quickly after an emotional match at Walsall, the back four particularly need to be full of concentration this evening.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Jack Baldwin will be looking to extend Sunderland’s unbeaten run tonight
Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Defensive Midfield: Power & Honeyman

With Max Power picking up a third red card of the season against Walsall on Saturday, Jack Ross was hoping Dylan McGeough would recover sufficiently to take his place this evening. However, Ross confirmed at yesterday’s press conference that McGeough would remain unavailable for the visit of Barnsley.

Whilst this perhaps caused something of a dilemma for the Sunderland manager during the morning’s preparations, news emerged around 3:30pm that Power’s red card had been rescinded following an appeal made to the FA.

With such a huge boost, Ross will now be able to name an unchanged defensive midfield partnership to shield the back four.

Power will no doubt have much to prove to Sunderland fans who debated his red card long and hard over the weekend, with some even questioning his suitability to play for the club again. With Jack Ross’ immediate thoughts that the official was mistaken in his actions at the Bescot thoroughly vindicated, it will now be up to the player himself to show a level of discipline and skill to erase the memory of Saturday.

Alongside him, George Honeyman will once again continue in a deeper role. Perhaps not his best position, the captain has performed well in recent weeks and his desire for Sunderland to succeed was never more in evidence than during the celebrations of Lynden Gooch’s late equaliser at The Bescot Stadium.

Honeyman and Power will have to perform well tonight and wrestle control of the midfield if Sunderland are to return to winning ways.

Max Power is available for selection following a successful appeal to the FA yesterday
Image: Getty Images

Attacking Midfield: Maguire, Gooch & McGeady

Chris Maguire was named on the bench on Saturday after carrying a knock for most of last week. Perhaps cautionary, the decision to keep him out of the starting eleven allowed Bryan Oviedo the chance to start for Sunderland.

But when Maguire replaced Josh Maja on 61 minutes, the game changed. Within a minute Aiden McGeady had pulled a goal back and, with a minute of normal time left, Lynden Gooch stepped up to equalise.

It is anticipated that Maguire will resume his starting position today, whilst surrounding him will be Sunderland’s goal-scoring heroes of Saturday. Both wide players are operating at the top of their game recently and both are having a huge effect on Sunderland’s season. Not just in scoring goals and turning around games, as was the case on Saturday, but in their overall play. They offer skill and drive in an attacking sense, taking the pressure of a lone striker.

Against such a promotion rival as Barnsley, this trio could make all the difference in seperating these two side tonight.

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One
Chris Maguire will hope to start tonight in support of Josh Maja
Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

Striker: Josh Maja

Sunderland will need their top scorer to be firing on all cylinders in tonight’s home game as we search for a victory over a key rival. A win tonight will see Sunderland open a five-point gap over Barnsley, and much will rest on Josh Maja’s talent for finding the net.

With eleven goals to his name - ten in league competition - Maja offers Sunderland the best possible chance of victory.

Supported by the likes of Aiden McGeady, Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire, Maja can make life difficult for any defence and any chance falling him tonight will be welcomed. If just one can be converted, Maja will raise the Stadium of Light roof as Sunderland’s march towards promotion rolls on.

Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Josh Maja is having a wonderful season so far
Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images

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