Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Scottish international Jon McLaughlin has slowly but surely reminded Sunderland fans what it’s like to have a decent goalkeeper again.
The loss of Jordan Pickford and Vito Mannone, coupled with the horrendous signings of Jason Steele and then Lee Camp, resulted in 18 errors directly contributing to goals last season. McLaughlin is in a different class and, against Sheffield Wednesday, proved he can be a safe pair of hands for a few years to come.
Aiming to secure his first clean sheet of the campaign this afternoon, McLaughlin will be relishing another home game in front of League One’s best fans.
Defence: Adam Matthews, Jack Baldwin, Glen Loovens & Bryan Oviedo
Jack Ross hinted that Adam Matthews would resume duties today. However, young Denver Hume did very little wrong in a strong debut against Sheffield Wednesday on Thursday evening. The return of Matthews, though, was always likely and provides better balance down the right-hand side.
Bryan Oviedo was singled out in our podcast with Paul Lemon and the Scunthorpe scout will surely have resported back to his employers about the Costa Rican. Whilst Reece James performed well in mid-week, two games in four days will be a lot to ask of a player coming back from injury. Oviedo, if he remains at the club beyond August, is likely to be our first choice, so I’d expect to see him line up today.
In central defence, Jack Baldwin had an assured debut at Luton last weekend and continued that form into Thursday’s cup-tie. His battle with former Black Cat Steven Fletcher was one of the interesting tussles on the night and Baldwin did himself proud.
Alim Öztürk, on the other hand, looked out of his depth at times and his mistake led to Wednesday taking the lead. With the watching Glenn Loovens likely to return today, the defence will be shored up, but I do have to wonder where this leaves the Turk in the pecking order. With Tom Flanagan due back later in the week, Öztürk may find his opportunities limited from hereon in.
Central Midfield: Dylan McGeough & Max Power
Jack Ross has been keen to manage Scottish international Dylan McGeough through his recent injury, looking at the bigger picture and the impact his star midfielder will have this season. With a series of injuries in recent years, the approach Ross and his staff have taken has been the right one. It is hoped that McGeough will be ready to make his first team debut this afternoon.
If he is to make the team it’s likely to be at the expense of Lee Cattermole - who had a good game against Sheffield Wednesday - and Bali Mumba, who has excelled in the league so far. McGeough, though, made the team tick during pre-season and Ross will be keen to see a return to winning ways today.
Alongside him, Max Power will provide energy and drive whilst complimenting the Scot’s class on the ball. Power has looked every inch at home since being thrown in against Luton and his display in the cup-tie was tremendous. If McGeough is going to be a star in this team, Power has the experience and ability to be one of the best midfielders in the league.
Attacking Midfield: Lynden Gooch, George Honeyman & Chris Maguire
With all three playing some part in the cup-tie during midweek, the make-up of their roles against Sheffield Wednesday was different to that which Ross has asked them to play in the league games. Today, with Maja returning to the side, the trio are likely to revert to their normal duties.
George Honeyman continues to grow into a quality player. His display against Wednesday in midweek showed how far he has come in the last year and the benefit of having a Championship campaign under his belt. This season he has led by example and proved Ross was right in handing the youngster the armband.
Operating from wide, Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch will continue to provide creativity and drive in getting Sunderland in and around the opposition’s box. Gooch’s goal against Charlton will hopefully be the first of many on home soil and he’ll be looking to add to that today.
Maguire has been a revelation in a Sunderland shirt and has cast off his time at Bury as some distant memory. His experience and maturity continues to help the younger members of the side and Ross will be over the moon with his performances to date.
Striker: Josh Maja
Josh Maja remains Sunderland’s main goal threat and will return to the starting line-up having been rested for large parts of the game in midweek. With two goals to his name already, Maja’s position is well deserved, but with Charlie Wyke edging towards a return, Jerome Sinclair beginning his own path to recovery and Ross looking to add another striker to the ranks via the loan system, Maja can’t afford to rest on his laurels.
It’s easy to forget our goalscorer is only a teenager himself and needs handling well, in terms of his own developement. But whilst he’s playing well and contributing to the team, the manager will be happy to see Maja lead the line.
As August comes to an end, talk of a new contract will resume. Hopefully, armed with a number of goals to his name, both Maja and the club can find a way to keep the young man in red and white for many years to come.