Goalkeeper: Lee Camp
Listen, I’d love to be able to type Max Stryjek’s name in here, but that’s not going to happen. We have four keepers on our books and I often wonder if the young lad deserves as much chance as the other three to stake a claim.
However, Camp arrived barely a month ago and is only three games into his Sunderland career. We continue to ship goals, but I can’t see Chris Coleman changing his goalkeeper again this season. Camp is probably the first name on the Sunderland team sheet.
Defenders: Matthews, Kone, O’Shea, Clarke-Salter, Oviedo
Switching to a back four didn’t work, did it? We were clamoring for it, especially after Bristol City, but I’m of the opinion we simply have a terrible defence and changing formations isn’t going to help them.
Coleman arrived with a plan and a system in mind. In the last few games, he’s been willing to change all of that as he goes searching for the right blend and approach to arrest our slide towards League One.
It’s simply not worked - so it’s time to go back to Plan A.
Personnel has to be changed, though. Billy Jones needs to take a seat and watch the last few games from the stands. Please Chris - don’t let him anywhere the team again. Adam Matthews returned to the fray in the second half on Saturday and is another who must start each game between now and the end of the season.
On the left hand side, Bryan Oviedo has to come back in. He brings balance and gives us an attacking threat down that side. Whatever the ‘tactical’ reasons were for his omission against Brentford, it didn’t work, and he must start the game.
In the middle, I’d start with Jake Clarke-Salter - I suspect he’s becoming our best defender. Then it’s a case of picking the least worst options.
John O’Shea continues to be a mainstay. As much as I’d love to give him the seat next to Billy Jones, we simply have no other options. O’Shea - whether you like it or not - is the only one who can organise the back line.
Joining them in the centre of defence should be Ivory Coast international Lamine Kone, who Chris Coleman spoke about in the build up to the game as a player who can add physicality and athleticism to our side.
Midfielders: Cattermole, Ejaria, Williams
We seem to have a few better options available in midfield now. Jonny Williams has been carefully managed and he made a return to the side via the subs bench at the weekend. I think losing Jonny Williams in Stockdale’s final game as caretaker was a huge blow for Coleman and having him back now will be a huge boost. I hope he’ll start at Bolton and provide the spark we need to change our fortunes.
Whist deploying Williams in the most advanced role to bring creativity to the attack, I think Coleman will go for a player who can drive us out of defence. Ovie Ejaria was missed on Saturday and I hope he’ll make a return at the Macron Stadium.
Guarding the defence is a tough choice, though. Lee Cattemole seems to remember he was once a footballer every so often, but mostly he wanders around wondering how he got to be out there. There’s a few in the cheap seats wondering the same thing. Yet Ethan Robson had a nightmare against Brentford and I doubt his confidence would take another crushing blow at his stage of development.
I applaud Coleman’s patience with Paddy McNair and hopefully he’s another who’s ready to make a comeback. His experience playing out of position as a centre-half at Manchester United gives him an appreciation of the holding midfield role. I suspect, however, that his careful re-introduction won’t be at the expense of Lee Cattermole tonight.
Attackers: Asoro & Maja
Joel Asoro continues to be the bright light in a fog of gloom. His desire and drive is needed if we are to survive the dreaded drop. Truth be told, we need to see those characteristics in a lot more players than just Joel.
Alongside him, I’d be tempted to give Maja another run. With Fletcher ineligible to play against his parent club on Saturday, I’d be tempted to put the Asoro-Maja pairing back together for these two games. If they can find a groove and work off creativity from Williams and drive from Ejaria, we might just nick a goal. Stranger things have happened.