Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
The Scotland international continues to perform well and his organisation skills have helped to marshall a decent back-line. McLaughlin’s distribution has helped the team to play out from the back and supported Ross in his preferred style of play.
With Robbin Ruiter on the bench, young Max Stryjek may well be looking for a loan move in the next few days. His path to the first team remains closed, whilst McLaughin maintains such a high level, but the youngster could do worse than learn from the wiser head.
Adding experience to his game will certainly make Stryjek a future possibility and provide a challenge to McLaughlin in the next season or two.
Defence: Donald Love, Jack Baldwin, Glen Loovens & Bryan Oviedo
Sunderland’s summer recruitment has been successful, by and large, but injuries have somewhat stretched our options at the back.
Alim Öztürk has been the one signing the fans are questioning, but with time and the right management, the Turk could yet come good.
In contrast, Jack Baldwin has been highly impressive. A ball-playing centre-half, composed and boasting plenty of experience at this level, the former Peterborough captain has slotted in very well alongside Glenn Loovens. Plenty has been said about the character and professionalism of the Dutchman and his performances in a Sunderland shirt have been equally assured.
Bryan Oviedo made a successful return to the side after the World Cup and looks a class above at this level. However, both Reece James and Denver Hume impressed in the cup-tie against Sheffield Wednesday and will be pushing the Costa Rican all the way for a place in the starting line-up.
On the other flank, injuries to key personnel has presented us with a slight issue - particularly since Adam Matthews has been picked up knocks against Luton and then again on Sunday. Ross suggested last week that Flanagan may be ready for a place within the matchday squad against either Gillingham or Wimbledon, but reports on Tuesday suggested the defender would remain on Wearside.
Matthews and fellow right-back Donald Love have travelled and we’re anticipating the former Manchester United man will get the nod against Gillingham, giving Matthews time to recover to face Wimbledon.
Central Midfield: Dylan McGeough & Max Power
Truth be told, we keep thinking today’s the day Dylan McGeough will appear, but so far the Scottish international has been conspicuous by his absence. The midfielder has travelled and, with reports suggesting he was under consideration last weekend, tonight could be the right time to introduce him.
In his absence both Bali Mumba and Lee Cattermole have impressed in the deep-lying role, and they will be eager to provide a selection headache for the Sunderland manager. Certainly, both have proved Ross right in not rushing to start McGeough until he was 100%.
Whoever gets the nod will undoubtedly benefit from the presence of Max Power. The former Wigan man has been a revelation since he arrived and registered his first goal at the weekend. His range of passing and communication have equally impressed those watching from the stands. Luke O’Nien, whilst performing well when given opportunities, will be allowed to develop naturally - which makes for a strong Sunderland midfield.
Attacking Midfield: Lynden Gooch, George Honeyman & Chris Maguire
Sunderland’s attacking midfield trio have all impressed in the early stages of the season. In the absence of Aiden McGeady, Jerome Sinclair and Duncan Watmore, the options available to Jack Ross may have been limited, but Gooch, Honeyman and Maguire have driven the side to securing seven points from nine so far.
The interplay and intelligent running displayed by all three has been a pleasure to watch. Perhaps here, more than anywhere else, the style Jack Ross wishes to adopt has been in evidence. Maguire brings a wealth of experience, whilst Gooch and Honeyman are relishing being first team regulars at this level.
The three are likely to be asked to bring their creativity and offensive play again today as Sunderland search for another three points.
Striker: Josh Maja
With Charlie Wyke closing in on a return to fitness, Josh Maja will finally receive some competition for the striker role. Jack Ross has confirmed the former Bradford man is getting ever-closer and has been included in the travelling party to the capital for games against Gillingham and Wimbledon. Whilst he won’t feature in the matchday squad, being around the lads will help his intergration into the group, with one eye on a possible inclusion against Oxford United next week.
It has to be said, though, that Maja is in the team as much on merit as necessity. Three goals in as many league games hasn’t been achieved by a Sunderland player since Kevin Phillips in 1998, who scored in consecutive games against QPR, Swindon and Tranmere.
As Ross said:
Naturally, strikers are always judged on goals, so to score three in three consecutive League One games is terrific for him. What he’s done so far, and the responsibility he’s had to take on because of limited options, has been big.
Maja will be relishing the trip to London and hopefully he can return home with more goals to bolster his growing reputation.