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Starting XI: 3 CHANGES! Is this the Sunderland side that will take on Bradford this afternoon?

Will Jack Ross ring the changes following a disappointing defeat last time out? We have a go at guessing what he’ll do - and we think he’ll make three big alterations to his side against Bradford today.

Image: Getty Images

Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin

Jon McLaughlin faces his old side today in front of a massive home crowd. The Scotland international goalkeeper played 125 times for the Bantams between 2008 and 2014, prior to him joining Burton Albion. The visiting fans will be sure to give him a warm reception, but it will be the red and white contingent within the expected 42,000 at the game today that be urging him to keep a clean sheet.

Sunderland have gone five games - six if you include the abandoned game at Accrington - without a clean sheet. 10 goals have been conceded during that run and McLaughlin will be hoping today will stem that flow.

Jon McLaughlin previously made 125 appearances for Bradford
Image: Getty Images

Defence: O’Nien, Flanagan, Baldwin, James

It’s clear that Jack Ross has a settled first choice defence. As soon as Reece James was available, he was preferred over Bryan Oviedo. Similarly, Tom Flanagan will return to the side when available. Jack Ross is hoping that is today, with the Northern Ireland international back in training having shaken off a hip injury. His return will be timely, as Glenn Loovens picked up an injury during the challenge which saw him sent off at Portsmouth on Saturday. Alim Öztürk remains on stand-by should Flanagan continue to be ruled out.

At right-back, Adam Matthews remains first choice but, having picked up a calf strain on Saturday morning, it’s unlikely Matthews will be available this afternoon. Regardless, given Luke O’Nien’s man-of-the-match display on Saturday, it would be a brave call to leave the former Wycombe midfielder out today.

Jack Baldwin will complete the defence today and make his 26th appearance for Sunderland.

Luke O’Nien both scored and won Man-of-the-Match for his performance on Saturday
Image: Getty Images

Defensive Midfield: Honeyman & Power

The defeat at Portsmouth means Sunderland trail the leaders by eight points and are now four points behind Luton Town, who currently occupy the second automatic promotion spot. Today’s home game, therefore, has become a game we simply have to take by the scruff of the neck and secure three points.

In order to bounce back, Jack Ross could revert to the side that has performed so well in recent weeks. George Honeyman has been excellent in the deeper role alongside Max Power and could be moved back to accommodate the return of Chris Maguire.

For that change to occur, Lee Cattermole is the most likely to miss out. In the past two games, he has failed to show the form he displayed prior to his injury and, with a hectic Christmas schedule, the former captain may benefit from being taken out today.

Max Power continues to keep the likes of Dylan McGeough and Bali Mumba out of the team, and today will be another big occasion for the former Wigan man. In order to secure victory today, he will be a key player in the middle of the park and provide an experienced head in front of a huge crowd.

Power and Honeyman could be today’s central pairing
Image: Getty Images

Attacking Midfield: Maguire, Gooch & McGeady

Sunderland’s best form has arguably been when Lynden Gooch, Aiden McGeady and Chris Maguire have been selected. With the need for three points, Jack Ross could call on his attacking trio to secure the victory today.

Saturday’s defeat against the league leaders was disappointing, but Sunderland have shown a desire and ability to bounce back from defeats this season. The goal remains for the club to win promotion and games such as today are vital in realising that aim. Whilst Bradford have rallied at home of late, their away form remains a concern and the trio of attacking midfielders have the quality to take advantage.

With options from the bench and a busy run of games coming up, the platform of three points today is vital if Sunderland are to chase down the top two. Games in hand remain, but it is points on the board that are needed as we enter the new year.

Could the Three Amigos be reunited today?
Image: Getty Images

Striker: Josh Maja

Josh Maja was on the bench on Saturday due to feeling unwell. Jack Ross will have been pleased with the first half performance of his side in his absence. The bonus of having Duncan Watmore available meant Maja didn’t need to be risked and with Charlie Wyke nearing his own first team return, Ross could have a number of options to call upon in the coming weeks.

However, the decision to send Glenn Loovens off on 50 minutes meant Watmore was sacrificed. That decision will have kept the forward fresh for today, but if Maja has recovered from illness, this is a game where your top-scorer will fancy adding to his tally.

With Bradford struggling at the wrong end of the table, today presents an opportunity to bounce back from Saturday’s disappointment whilst restoring Sunderland’s impressive goal difference.

Will top-scorer Josh Maja be recalled after his recent illness?
Image: Getty Images