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STARTING XI: SIX CHANGES - Is this the side that Jack Ross will pick tonight against Stoke City?

Sunderland have to field a strong lineup against Stoke City U21s tonight in the Checkatrade Trophy, but may still make a breadth of changes after a disappointing performance at the weekend.

Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin

It seems harsh on Robin Ruiter to not include him in the side that starts tonight’s game but the strict rules of this particular competition means that teams are almost forced to play their strongest eleven.

That, in my opinion, means that Jon McLaughlin will get the nod to take up his place in nets again, and he will look to improve upon his recent shaky performances. He has just one clean sheet this season and his confidence will improve if he can keep another one tonight.

On Saturday he should have done better for the Oxford goal and was fortunate that his second half spill was not punished, thanks to the offside flag.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Defence: James, Baldwin, Ozturk, Flanagan

Two changes to the defence could be in the offing for Ross as Bryan Oviedo is on international duty and Donald Love has been playing with a slight knock in recent weeks.

This game comes too soon for Adam Matthews, who is missing having picked up a knock away at Gillingham, and its likely that the returning Tom Flanagan will make his first competitive start for Sunderland on the right hand side of defence.

On the left, with Bryan Oviedo missing, I’m expecting to see Reece James start.

Whilst Denver Hume would benefit from playing tonight - particularly with James likely to play from the start on Saturday against Fleetwood - I think Ross may opt to give the former Wigan man the nod on this occasion.

He’s not played a great deal since arriving here and could use the extra minutes as he bids to gain some confidence and momentum in what has become a vitally important position in Ross’ attacking system.

In the middle I’m sticking with Alim Ozturk and Jack Baldwin, who actually played quite well together at the weekend. Ozturk has been improved in his last two appearances, whilst Baldwin has very quickly established himself as the most vitally important defender in the Sunderland squad.

Central Midfield: Robson & McGeouch

This is where the selecting the team gets rather interesting because of the breadth of options Jack Ross has available to him.

Max Power is suspended due to an unclear and bizarre ruling which has caused a bit of a fuss not only at Sunderland, but at other clubs.

Lee Cattermole should be given a rest as he has played the last five games - he is, after all, known for breaking down when he plays too much, so this is the perfect opportunity to give him the night off.

Ethan Robson is a player that Jack Ross apparently likes a lot so it will be no surprise to see him get his first start of the season, and with a good performance he could stake a claim for a starting spot against Fleetwood Town.

Dylan McGeouch is probably going to start on Saturday - so with that in mind, he’s likely to play some part tonight to ensure that he is ready for the visit of Joey Barton’s side at the weekend.

Bali Mumba, who has featured on three occasions already this season, is away on international duty with England U18s so will not be included in the match day squad.

Attacking midfield: Maguire, O’Nien, Gooch

Captain George Honeyman has played in every game so far this season so it would not be a surprise to see him given a rest. In his place could be recently-signed Luke O’Nien, who has struggled to break into the Sunderland side since his arrival from Wycombe Wanderers.

He prefers to play in a more advanced role and this provides him with the perfect opportunity to prove his worth to the team in that position, operating as a box-to-box midfielder.

Chris Maguire was poor at the weekend and almost got himself sent off before half time. Despite that, it is possible that Ross gives him a chance to redeem himself in this game, and he’ll be keen to impress with Jerome Sinclair expected to return very soon.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Striker: Charlie Wyke

Charlie Wyke got his Sunderland career off to the perfect start at the weekend against Oxford United with the important equalising goal - a delicate flicked effort from Lynden Gooch’s cross which nestled into the far bottom corner of Jonathan Mitchell’s net.

A couple of things were obvious from his performance - firstly, he is an absolute sh*thouse, and secondly that he is very clearly lacking in match fitness. As well as he did, he looked a little slow and you can tell he’s missed a fair chunk of playing time recently - through no fault of his own, I may add.

Tonight is the perfect opportunity to give Wyke an hour or so - and if he gets through it unscathed, we may well see him start up top this weekend against Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town.

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