Goalkeeper: Lee Camp
Lee Camp came within minutes of a clean sheet - a clean sheet, at home. However, poor defending at the end of a game that we desperately needed the three points from meant the wait goes on for the on-loan Cardiff keeper.
Having said that the last four games have seen, as a team, a general improvement in performances and Camp has conceded only once against Derby, Leeds and then Norwich.
Could today be the day that we see Camp finally achieve a clean sheet?
Defenders: Love, Kone, Wilson, Oviedo
John O’Shea and Adam Matthews are likely to be missing after picking up knocks on Tuesday night. Bryan Oviedo replaced Matthews at half time and will likely be restored to the starting line up today.
In the centre of defence, Chris Coleman could play Jake Clarke-Salter or the returning Marc Wilson. Clarke-Salter’s twenty minute performance against Norwich coincided with our most nervous spell and led to us conceding late in the game. With Wilson fully recovered, his experience and communication will be needed to organise the defence in the absence of the skipper.
Donald Love and Lamine Kone will surely complete the defence once more. Both players have points to prove as we enter the final few weeks - Love to stake a long-term claim as Sunderland’s regular right back and Kone to prompt a suitor to come forward for his services.
Midfielders: Cattermole, McNair, Honeyman, Gooch, McGeady
Ovie Ejaria was presented with a great opportunity on Tuesday when given a starting berth but largely failed to take it. His endeavour was visible throughout, but his quality and composure let him down at times. Coleman has hinted that Paddy McNair is ready to resume his role in the midfield and he surely will be the first name on the teamsheet today. We are a much better side when he plays and we will need his drive and quality if we’re going to come away with anything.
Alongside the Northern Ireland international I expect Coleman to stick by the midfield that has served him well over the past few games. Lynden Gooch was said to be making a quick recovery from his own knock on Tuesday evening and will likely be ready for today’s game. The young American has been something of a shining light in the last month and, as supporters, we have wondered what would could have been if we’d played 4-5-1 rather than three at the back. The key to the formation seems to have been the energy that Gooch, McNair and George Honeyman have provided, which has allowed Cattermole to sit and McGeady to probe.
Perhaps now it’s a little late to save us, but it will be critical that we retain this attitude, if not all the personnel, next season. To build around the likes of McNair, Honeyman and Gooch will be crucial to our recovery, in both the short-term and long-term.
Attacker: Ashley Fletcher
Up front it’s likely Ashley Fletcher will continue as the sole striker. He has shown signs of improvement in the last few weeks but a single goal in that time hasn’t sparked the upturn the backroom staff at Sunderland had hoped for. Reading may be an opportune time for the youngster to rectify that.
There was an interesting rumour this week that Coleman could retain the striker’s services next season. His spell on loan at League One Barnsley prompted Manchester United to offer the youngster a new deal and there is a suggestion that Middlesbrough could follow the same path, by seeing how he fares at a lower level and recovers his confidence. A season-long loan could be in the offing should Coleman wish to keep Fletcher on Wearside.
If there is any truth in such rumour, Fletcher will need to perform in the last few games to prompt such a decision from Coleman.