Having now found their feet following a decent spell of friendly results, Sunderland travel the short distance to Middlesbrough tonight as our pre-season draws to a close.
Jack Ross will hope this particular fixture continues the winning trend that saw the Lads come away from both Grimsby and St Mirren with victories, and isn’t another game against local neighbours that sees Sunderland struggle.
Recent matches against Boro haven’t exactly gone our way - but this is a pre-season, non-competitive friendly that offers both managers a chance to assess their respective squads and progress ahead of the season kick-off.
Jon McLaughlin showed his class in the St Mirren game with an assured display and a couple of excellent saves. Adam Matthews and Donald Love looked decent in the full-back positions, whilst Tom Flanagan and Alim Öztürk remained comfortable in the heart of defence. They will come under pressure from new signing Glenn Loovens, who may replace one of those today to make his Sunderland bow, and Jack Baldwin, who may be looking on from the stands or possibly even in the side if his signing is confirmed.
In midfield, Dylan McGeough continues to impress and it will be interesting to see how he steps up against a Championship side. Alongside him Lee Cattermole had an effective, if unspectacular, game north of the border and will relish another run-out against his former side, if selected. George Honeyman will likely operate in the more advanced central role, whilst Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire, who have stood out in the last few games, support new signing Jerome Sinclair. Josh Maja will likely make way, if Ross feels Sinclair can start the game, but the youngster will surely make an appearance.
The chances are that Tony Pulis will field a mixture of first-team regulars and first-team hopefuls. One player likely to miss out is winger Adama Traore, with Wolves having reportedly triggered his £18m release clause, whilst both Ben Gibson and Patrick Bamford have been linked with moves away.
This game provides Pulis a further chance to decide who will lead the line this season - Rudy Gestede, who has featured heavily during pre-season, or Britt Assombalonga, who played in their friendly at Rochdale. Both will be keen to cement a place in the team after former Sunderland academy product Martyn Waghorn was rumoured to be a target for Tony Pulis this week.
Whoever starts will provide a strong test for Sunderland’s re-designed defence. In the midfield, ex-Mackem Grant Leadbitter may feature, perhaps even alongside Paddy McNair.
The Treatment Table...
Reece James is unavailable due to a groin injury, whilst Aiden McGeady is still not ready for competitive action. Duncan Watmore is making a steady recovery from his long-term injury, but won’t be available until the autumn, at the earliest.
Otherwide, it’s a clean bill of health and Ross has a number of options at his disposal.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
All the tickets Sunderland have been allocated have now been sold, but there will be FREE live audio provided on the club website by Nick Barnes, and you can tune in from around 7:30pm on SAFC.com.
We’ll also be providing live commentary via our Twitter page and, after the game, there’ll be a match report and player ratings article on the site - so keep an eye out for that.