Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Jack Ross has opted to play Robbin Ruiter in the Checkatrade Trophy, but it is likely that league custodian, Jon McLaughlin, will play tonight.
Ross has put his faith in the Scottish international goalkeeper this season and, with a big prize in the third round away at Bolton up for grabs, it’s likely Ross will select McLaughlin.
This will be the third time the teams have met in recent weeks and the former Hearts keeper will be hoping to keep a clean sheet tonight. Having conceded three goals over the two games at The Bescot, tonight’s home fixture will be a chance to do just that.
Defence: Flanagan, Loovens, Öztürk
Ross has spoken of the need to rotate his squad and allow game-time for those who perhaps haven’t played as often as they’d have liked. The Checkatrade Trophy has allowed for much rotation and, with two big league games on the horizon, tonight may be another opportunity for a few fringe players.
With Adam Matthews already confirmed as missing, Ross may opt for a back-three formation, as per the Checkatrade last week. This will provide further gametime for the likes of Glenn Loovens and Alim Öztürk, whilst giving Walsall something different to contend with.
Who may be rested is open to debate, but it may be an opportunity for Jack Baldwin to take a well-deserved breather.
Wing Backs: Mumba & Oviedo
Bryan Oviedo has had various oportunities to get minutes under his belt recently, both as a starter and a substitute. Tonight, however, there may be an opportunity for the Costa Rican to play in his favoured attacking role down the left.
On the opposite flank, Bali Mumba’s performance against Notts County may have provided Jack Ross with some serious thought. Another chance to impress will not go amiss for the teenager. Ross has already commented on the fact Mumba has played this role at international level and may see this as a solution tonight.
Central Midfield: Cattermole & McGeough
Both central midfielders are available following injury and both will present Walsall with a new problem this evening. Cattermole’s presence will provide an experienced head in the midst of knock-out battle, whilst McGeough’s ability to recycle possession may help get Sunderland on the front foot.
With the home pitch providing space and opportunity out wide, protecting the centre halves and supplying the wing-backs will be a key part of the central midfielders’ game. In both Cattermole and McGeough, Ross can call on talented players to control tonight’s clash.
Attack: Watmore, McGeady, Maja
Ross has confirmed that Duncan Watmore will be part of the squad for tonight’s game. As with Notts County last week, the best way to integrate the forward may be from the start, rather than asking him to catch the pace of the game as a substitute.
With that in mind, I’d expect to see Watmore and in-form goalscorer Aiden McGeady line up behind Josh Maja. Leaving Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch out will be big calls, but with big league games on the horizon, it may not do them any harm in having a rest tonight. No doubt, one or even both forwards will be available to change the game, should it require it.
Josh Maja will compete with last week’s cup hero in Jerome Sinclair for a starting role up front. Ross will want to win the tie inside 90 minutes, so starting with your top scorers would be beneficial. Sinclair may be called upon as the game progresses. Expect a flurry of changes later on to keep key players fresh ahead of Saturday.