Goalkeeper: Lee Camp
News this week emerged that Dutch stopper Robbin Ruiter has been ruled out for between eight and twelve weeks having badly dislocated his finger, meaning that the competition for the Sunderland number one spot has become a two-horse race.
Despite a move to Derby County breaking down late on deadline day, summer acquisition Jason Steele has returned back to Wearside in order to provide cover for loanee Lee Camp, who made his debut last weekend in our loss against Ipswich Town. Steele played a full ninety minutes for the U23s in midweek down at West Ham and managed to keep a clean sheet in a bid to get some much-needed minutes under his belt.
Camp is quite obviously Chris Coleman’s first choice in goal when fit, and he’ll be looking to get his start to life as a Sunderland player off on a better footing with a more assured performance tomorrow at Bristol City.
Side Note: in a poll we started earlier this week, which finishes tomorrow, Roker Report readers have been voting for who they’d like to see between the sticks for the first team going forward - and, though the results are close, youngster Max Stryjek currently leads with almost half of the votes. A shame, then, that it would appear that the Poland U21 international is behind the hapless Steele in the pecking order.
Back Five: Jones, Browning, O’Shea, Clarke-Salter, Oviedo
Sunderland’s defence tomorrow virtually picks itself due to injuries in a number of key positions.
As confirmed today by Chris Coleman, Lamine Kone is still struggling with a knee problem sustained against Birmingham City and he just misses out, whilst Marc Wilson should return back to the fold next week ahead of the Brentford game. Adam Matthews limped off the pitch against Ipswich and hasn’t trained all week, so he too won’t feature in Coleman’s squad against his old side tomorrow afternoon. Billy Jones is expected to play ahead of Donald Love at right wing back in his place, despite performing miserably as a stand-in central defender last weekend.
In more positive news, though, Chelsea loanee Jake Clarke-Salter has recovered from the hamstring twinge that saw him brought off in that midweek defeat at St Andrews and is certain to start on the left-hand side of the central three.
Central Midfield: Lee Cattermole & Ethan Robson
Whilst we’re still struggling for central midfield options, a partnership of sorts has formed over recent weeks and I expect that Chris Coleman will stick by it, despite an underwhelming showing last time out for Lee Cattermole and Ethan Robson.
Irregardless of the fact that he’s played a couple of games for the U23s since recovering from a dislocated shoulder, Jonny Williams still has to prove his fitness to Chris Coleman and the gaffer confirmed to the press today that the Wales international will play again for our second-string on Sunday in their Premier League Cup game away at Exeter City. Similarly, Patrick McNair is expected to start alongside the Crystal Palace loanee in the game as he attempts his own comeback from a groin problem.
Attacking Midfield: Ovie Ejaria & George Honeyman
I doubt that Chris Coleman will stray too far from his usual tactics and setup when playing away from home, and I expect the Sunderland gaffer to play a more traditional ‘box’ midfield, with two central players ahead of the holding pair that can cover for our full backs when we’re on the back foot.
Despite impressing in the early stages against Ipswich, I suspect that Sweden U21 international Joel Asoro may drop out of the side in place of George Honeyman, who for the first time since Coleman arrived did not start the game. Operating both in behind the front-man and out on the left, Honeyman has the work-rate and desire to perform the job that Chris Coleman requires of his attacking midfield players away from home, which is why I suspect he’ll play.
Alongside him will likely be Ovie Ejaria, who impressed on his debut at the Stadium of Light last Saturday. Whilst he’s a more conventional box-to-box player, Ejaria can do a job both on the right and through the middle in a similar role to that of Honeyman - except, due to his size and athleticism, he can cause problems on the break and give us an option when attempting to get bodies in the box.
Centre Forward: Ashley Fletcher
As much as I rate Josh Maja, I don’t think that Ashley Fletcher came here on the proviso that he’d be sitting behind the academy graduate in the pecking order, meaning that this is the Middlesbrough loanee’s spot to lose.
Fletcher looked canny for a portion of the Ipswich match but once the game was practically over he went missing for a while and struggled to have an impact. It’ll be even harder for him to get chances to score away from home, and in Aden Flint he faces perhaps the best central defender in the division, but this is why he plays football - to compete and showcase his abilities against the best around.
He’ll be keen to get his first goal for the club on his journey towards proving every single person wrong who wrote him off after his big-money move to Middlesbrough in the summer failed to work out - and I fancy his chances.