Fresh off the back of another clean sheet and man of the match performance came October’s Player of the Month award for Jon McLaughlin - it’s safe to say that the former Burton Albion man has settled in well to life as Sunderland’s first choice goalkeeper.
He was the difference on more than one occasion when the game was tight against Southend and, with Plymouth’s Freddie Ladapo in a rich vein of scoring form, he’ll need to be at his best again this afternoon if he wants to make it four clean sheets on the bounce.
Defence: Matthews, Baldwin, Flanagan, James
It would be lunacy to make alterations to a defence that is quite clearly performing well because of the consistency of our selections so, unfortunately for Bryan Oviedo, Donald Love and Glenn Loovens, Sunderland’s squad players will have to wait until we play Port Vale in the FA Cup next week before they get a chance to start a game and show Jack Ross what they’re capable of.
It was great watching our centre halves throw themselves in the way of everything and anything late in last weekend’s game as they bid to keep the score down - it shows that they care deeply about keeping clean sheets and understand the significance in completing a game without conceding.
Jack Baldwin has taken most of the plaudits for his efforts so far this season but, alongside him, Tom Flanagan has been one of Sunderland’s most admirable performers since finding his way into the team and you could argue he’s our best defender.
Adam Matthews has thrived in recent weeks, as has his left-sided counterpart Reece James, and despite other players being available in their positions it seems unlikely that they’ll lose their places in the side any time soon.
CM: Cattermole & McGeough
There are only really two places in the team where I feel you could mount a case for changing it up this weekend, and whilst I actually think he’s been alright in recent weeks I suspect that Dylan McGeouch will be looking over his shoulder if he doesn’t manage to perform at an above-average level this afternoon.
Max Power’s suspension is up after today and he’s a shoe-in to start at Port Vale, so it’s important that McGeough plays well and reminds both supporters and the manager of what he’s capable of for when the next league game against Wycombe rolls around.
Lee Cattermole is a different case altogether - if he’s fit, he plays.
Attack: Gooch, Honeyman, Maguire
Lynden Gooch went off with a slight injury against Southend but has trained this week and is expected to start. He’s important both offensively and defensively in Ross’ system and despite some quality opposition on the bench in the form of Aiden McGeady, who scored a good goal last week, I just feel that Lynden is by far the better option away from home, particularly against a team that play with the ball on the floor.
George Honeyman had one of his best games this season last weekend and was able to cap it with a good goal. He’s responded well to being dropped and that’s testament to his good character - whatever people may think, he’s still very important to this team.
On the left will of course be Chris Maguire, who keeps on managing to exceed all expectations of what he’s able to achieve. His goal last weekend was one from a player at the peak of their abilities and confidence, and it’s hard to imagine a Sunderland team now without Maguire front and centre of everything we do well.
Like McGeough, Sinclair hasn’t really done a lot wrong recently but is one of the players who needs to be wary of the fact his place in the team is under threat.
His performances have been good and he does so much hard work off the ball that helps the team to do well, but it’s a matter of fact that Sinclair doesn’t score enough goals or get into anywhere near enough good positions to allow our creative players to create chances.
If the Watford loanee can add a goal or two to his game, he’s got a great chance of retaining his spot up top, but another failure to hit the back of the net will likely have supporters calling for the reinstatement of Josh Maja to the side, who now appears to be fully recovered from the ankle problem which has kept him out of the starting eleven for the last few games.