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STARTING XI: 3 CHANGES - Is this the Sunderland side Jack Ross will pick today against Rochdale?

Sunderland are not only in search of three points today, but also a much-needed clean sheet. With that in mind, are these the changes that Jack Ross will make to his side that takes on Rochdale?

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Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin

Scotland international Jon McLaughlin has moved quickly to banish the ghosts that haunted Sunderland between the sticks last season. Whilst Lee Camp continues to perform his impression of a goalkeeper in Birmingham, and Jason Steele keeps goal for Brighton's U23 side, McLaughlin has restored the confidence of supporters in a Sunderland custodian and, after a minor blip a few weeks back, he’s produced some confident displays in spite of the fact the defence in front of him can’t stop conceding goals from set pieces.

The former Hearts man has claimed only one clean sheet this season, during the 3-0 home win over Scunthorpe last month. It is hoped that, with a run of shut-outs, Sunderland can turn September’s habit of drawing games into a thing of the past.

Jon McLaughlin made history as the first Sunderland keeper to save a penalty at the Stadium of Light
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Defence: Flanagan, Baldwin, Loovens

How does Jack Ross counter the slow starts? More importantly, how does he stop Sunderland conceding from set pieces inside the first twenty minutes? The answer may lie in a player who performed well during pre-season.

Tom Flanagan has been eased back into action, but Ross recently revealed that the former Burton man was penciled in for the season opener against Charlton before picking up an injury. Flanagan’s introduction during the last home game against Fleetwood brought a greater sense of physicality and presence to the defence, in a similar way to Jerome Sinclair and Charlie Wyke’s influence to the attack.

Chris Maguire was dropped for the trip to Burton and Ross conceded this week that the forward hadn’t met his own high standards during the Oxford and Fleetwood games. The same can now be said about Adam Matthews, who has under-performed for the last couple of matches. Tom Flanagan is naturally suited to playing in a back three and his introduction may shore up a defence that has kept only a single clean sheet so far this season.

Tom Flanagan could play a crucial role today
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Gooch, Cattermole, Honeyman, McGeouch & Oviedo

Last week showed that Cattermole struggles without an established midfield partner. George Honeyman is not suited to the deep-lying role, both in physicality and style of play. Cattermole has looked far more assured alongside Max Power or, perhaps to a lesser extent given his impact so far, Dylan McGeough.

With Power serving the final game of his suspension, it is hoped McGeough has recovered sufficiently to return to the side today, having missed the trip to Burton with a knock. In turn this will allow Honeyman to return to a play a more advanced role, to which he is far better suited.

Jack Ross praised George Honeyman’s captaincy this week and called out a number of key attributes for the former academy player. Whilst conceding his captain has had to play in a number of roles this season, Ross will be pleased to have Honeyman linking the midfield with the attack in the more advanced central role today.

Lynden Gooch has also been in the press in recent days, speaking of his desire to do well for the club and offering an insight into his role as a right sided wing-back. As well as adding a defensive element to his game, Gooch is an offensive outlet, with his driving runs and engagement of defenders. His ability to cross the ball, as much as arrive on the end of crosses from the left, has been a key component in Sunderland’s offensive play this season.

Last week, the compact nature of the midfield meant Gooch wasn’t able to provide the width, but at home the onus is on the 22-year-old to create from the right hand side, whilst supporting the lone striker.

Bryan Oviedo wasn’t at his best at Burton, but utilising the the Costa Rican’s attacking abilities as a wing-back has helped Sunderland to play on the front foot. Ross will be relying on him today, in a game we really need to win.

Big things are still expected of Dylan McGeough this season
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Forwards: Josh Maja & Chris Maguire

Despite suffering a knock of his own and missing out on training for much of this week, EFL Player of the Month, Josh Maja, is likely to continue as Sunderland’s main goal-threat today.

The knee injury Charlie Wyke sustained last week will keep the former Bradford striker out of action until at least Christmas. Whilst it’s a huge blow to Jack Ross, Wyke’s influence this season had not yet been felt and perhaps won’t be as badly missed whilst Maja continues his development.

Four goals in his opening five games, with a fifth of the season arriving during the last home game, means the youngster is the striker in form and arguably the one we would miss more. With competition for the teenager limited through Wyke’s absence, the onus is on Maja to continue to lead the line.

Operating in a role that allows him to seamlessly move between midfield and attack, Chris Maguire will hope to be reinstated after his goalscoring substitute appearance last week. Jack Ross has praised the forward’s response to being benched against Burton and today is an opportunity for Maguire to reassert himself.

With both Jerome Sinclair and Aiden McGeady back from injury, Maguire will have to maintain the standards he set earlier in the season to retain a regular starting place. Sinclair started last week and is likely his biggest competition today, with McGeady likely to start on the bench once more.

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