Goalkeeper: Lee Camp
Continuing between the sticks this weekend will undoubtedly be Cardiff City loanee Lee Camp who, unless he’s injured, is certain to start each and every game from now until the end of the season.
The former Rotherham stopper hasn’t enjoyed the best of starts since arriving here, conceding five goals across the two games that he’s played in so far, but can’t really accused of being at fault for any of the goals at Ashton Gate last weekend - in truth he’s been let down by some truly awful defending, and will be hoping to put that behind him in order to earn his first clean sheet from Saturday’s game with Brentford.
Jason Steele is now the number two behind Camp, with Max Stryjek back playing with our U23s and Robbin Ruiter ruled out for the majority of the rest of this season with a badly dislocated finger injury.
Defence: Jones, O’Shea, Clarke-Salter, Oviedo
Yep - a back four!
Chris Coleman may have just been throwing us a curveball when he suggested in midweek that he could be tempted to play with four defenders at the weekend but, in all honesty, who would blame him if he did?
We looked far better when we changed our shape against Bristol City and doing it again this week will allow Coleman to get an extra attacker into the team, something that we can all concede is sorely needed if we are going to start winning games.
As such, there are decisions to make. Tyias Browning and John O’Shea were both incredibly poor in the last game but Coleman has shown faith in his captain since arriving and I don’t see that changing soon. Alongside him should be Jake Clarke-Salter, who was the only one of of the three central defenders that came away from Ashton Gate with any credit and is left-footed, which edges him slightly ahead of both Browning and Lamine Kone.
Billy Jones played his part in our ‘Bristanbul’ revival and should retain his place, as should Bryan Oviedo who, despite being withdrawn early last time out, is pretty much guaranteed to start every week unless he’s injured.
Midfield: Cattermole, Honeyman, Williams
With the shift in shape affording us another midfielder I suspect that Jonny Williams will partner Lee Cattermole in shielding the defence, with George Honeyman given a free role to roam and propel us from box to box.
Ovie Ejaria is a serious doubt through injury, whilst Paddy McNair will play for the U23s this evening before he is considered fully for a return to action.
This of course means that there would no place for Ethan Robson, who in truth I feel a little sorry for because he’s not really done anything wrong in order to lose his place, but I feel that a little more experience and height in the position alongside Cattermole is what is needed, particularly having seen George Honeyman unsuccessfully shoehorned into that role last week down at Bristol City.
Attacking Midfield: Asoro & McGeady
Joel Asoro has undoubtedly been Sunderland’s most improved player since Chris Coleman arrived, giving a man of the match performance last weekend against Bristol City having torn Joe Bryan to shreds down their left hand side.
As a result he’s almost undroppable, and is certain to play again on Saturday.
Chris Coleman also hinted midweek that Aiden McGeady will start, saying:
He looked good, Aiden, on Saturday - looked bright and sharp. He made some great passes, scored a great goal, quick thinking. When he’s in that type of form you can’t not pick him. I was really pleased with him.
McGeady’s impact when coming on late in games has not gone unnoticed, and having bagged a goal and an assist at Ashton Gate it seems sensible to suppose that he has impressed Chris Coleman enough in order to cement his place in the side.
Striker: Ashley Fletcher
Though he’s still searching for his first goal there have been some glimmers of hope from the first two performances of Ashley Fletcher’s Sunderland career - though it would be fair to assume that he’ll have been re-living the close range chance he missed with the game poised at 3-2 last Saturday afternoon.
When Kazenga LuaLua’s long range effort was fumbled into the path of the Middlesbrough loanee by Frankie Fielding late in the game, I bet that Fletcher couldn’t believe his luck - but the Bristol City ‘keeper managed a tremendous save, turning away Fletcher’s shot in order to keep his side in the game at that moment.
Still, you can’t win them all. He has to back himself to put chances like that away when they present themselves to him in the coming weeks - and in front of the home crowd this weekend I can’t think of a better place to get off the mark.