1: Can Jason Steele carry on his decent form?
After a steady game away to Millwall, surely Coleman will continue with some semblance of stability in the form of much maligned ‘keeper, Jason Steele?
If truth be told, the former Blackburn stopper looked assured at the weekend, and pulled off a string of impressive saves throughout the course of the game. To remove him from the starting XI seems very unlikely.
The question, then, is can Steele continue his good form on from the weekend? He’s often crumbled in front of the Stadium of Light crowd, with his nerves unable to hold up to the occasion, but having played so well it’s now his position to nail down.
The Sunderland supporters are a forgiving bunch if you just show them that you are trying your best, that you care and that you play with passion. If Steele can keep his chin up and produce a match-winning performance it will go a long way towards rebuilding his image in the eyes of both the fanbase and his fellow players.
It's Team of the Week time!— EFL (@EFL) March 5, 2018
Our #TOTW selection from a heavily reduced #EFL schedule >> https://t.co/qAE257XHvD pic.twitter.com/ya5iTDpERK
2: Could a win tonight reignite our hopes of survival?
As noted in yesterday’s press conference, Chris Coleman certainly sees our draw at the Den on Saturday as a positive result that we can build upon;
It’s a win of course, we need a win. I think I’ve got to walk a tight line in terms of us to be bottom of the league going to Millwall, who’ve won 7 games out of 9, unbeaten in 9, won their last 3. For me to say to our guys that a point is not enough, this is not enough, I think I’d probably end up losing them. So, I’ve got to be realistic.
But should we dare to dream? If we secure a result tonight, we will be in with more than a fighting chance of scrapping our way out of trouble. Two games without defeat is something to be cheered, but turning those draws and positive performances into victories is a must. Could tonight go some way to helping us secure our league position with another positive result?
We need every piece of hope we can find if we’re to defy the odds and stay up this season; come the end of this campaign could the last two draws we’ve achieved prove crucial, either way?
⬆️ @FulhamFC leapfrog @dcfcofficial and go fourth.@MillwallFC are the day's only other climbers. pic.twitter.com/PFOY9klQTS— Sky Bet Championship (@SkyBetChamp) March 3, 2018
3. Will faces of our past come back to haunt us?
Quite often this season we’ve been turned over by players that used to adorn the red and white stripes in the past. David Meyler, Martyn Waghorn, Daryl Murphy and Grant Leadbitter are just some of the names off the top of my head that have scored against us this season, and there’s certainly something lingering in the back of my mind about the amount of ex-Sunderland players in the Villa ranks that will likely take to the field this evening.
Alan Hutton, Conor Hourihane, Ahmed Elmohamady and Lewis Grabban will all likely feature this evening, and their manager is of course Steve Bruce.
If nothing else it adds a little extra needle to the occasion and there will be plenty of people looking to prove a point, which should make for an interesting game.
4: We need wins - will we look to hurt & attack Villa?
One major question surrounding Coleman’s tactical approach will be whether or not he sets his side up to take the game to Steve Bruce’s third-placed Villa and attack them. After all, we are desperate for wins and at this stage of the season it seems foolish to hedge our bets on sitting deep and soaking up pressure, especially when our form would tell us that we’re terrible and playing defensive football.
Getting over psychological barriers, home or away it doesn’t matter, it’s just us. Imposing ourselves, taking the game to the opposition, because when we do that we have chances in games to come out victorious.
From the gaffer’s words it would seem he wants his men to focus on doing just that. Of course, that’s easier said than done, and even Coleman has admitted recently that his men simply haven’t followed the game-plan at times.
Playing hoof ball against the likes of John Terry and James Chester will be about as futile as two bald men fighting for a comb. Instead, Sunderland must look to the likes of Aiden McGeady, Jonny Williams and Joel Asoro to make something happen. Get the ball down, make them uncomfortable and get the home fans on-side early doors, just like they did when we beat Hull City.
5: Who plays up top?
I don’t want to sound too much like one of the boo-boys, but Ashley Fletcher really hasn’t looked like cutting the mustard recently, has he?
Perhaps it’s a confidence thing and maybe he’ll come good in the coming games - then again, there is a solid chance that Fletcher just simply isn’t good enough to make his mark at the club.
Ultimately, Coleman is in a tricky position with regard to his striking options, and the knock picked up by Asoro against Boro also won’t have helped matters much, either.
McGeady and McManaman actually looked relatively threatening at the weekend on occasion, and I think Asoro could well be the preferred foil up top with his pace and movement. Josh Maja has a bright future ahead of him, but asking him to go toe-to-toe with John Terry and hold the ball up simply isn’t fair.
Coleman likely knows this result will be huge one way or the other, and Asoro deserves the chance to show why Sunderland fans are increasingly keen to see him given the chance to fire us to safety.