Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Robbin Ruiter reminded us that he is still alive and well with a rather good performance midweek in the Checkatrade trophy against Stoke, saving two penalties in the shootout and keeping a clean sheet.
The good thing for Sunderland is that they can now build some positive competition between the sticks, something we have not had in a good few years. And thanks to Ruiter’s decent performance, I am no longer concerned if he was to play some league games - I think he can handle it.
This weekend, though, it’s fully expected that Jon McLaughlin will continue in goal - and hopefully he will improve upon his recent displays in the full knowledge he’s got someone breathing down his neck.
Defence: James, Baldwin, Ozturk, Hume
The big question - does Denver Hume start?
After his impressive performance midweek it seems silly to not give him a chance to earn a more regular shot at the right back position, and why not this weekend? Donald Love has been arguably our worst player in recent weeks and is reportedly carrying a small knock so he could benefit from a rest. Adam Matthews is expected to be in the squad this weekend so he may get the nod, however the decision Ross has to make is whether it is worth risking him when Hume played so well midweek - and I would argue not.
Aside from that, Tom Flanagan had a decent performance midweek but may have to make do with a place on the bench since he has just came back from injury. Glenn Loovens is also getting closer to returning, with Ross confirming that he is in contention this weekend, but it is likely that he will have to start from the bench.
That likely means that Alim Ozturk and Jack Baldwin will continue at centre back, which is fine by me as they have been fairly effective together.
With Bryan Oviedo away on international duty with Costa Rica, Reece James will be given the chance this weekend to keep his spot with a half-decent performance - though he’ll need to improve upon his performance on Tuesday night.
Central midfield: McGeouch, Cattermole
Our central midfield options aren’t quite as deep going into this game because of a variety of factors, but even still we have a relatively strong group to pick from and Jack Ross will be happy to finally give Dylan McGeouch a league start.
Max Power’s three game suspension - which he picked up as a result of his red card last weekend against Oxford - and the absence of Bali Mumba, who is on international duty with England U18s, means that summer signing McGeouch will likely take up a spot in Sunderland’s starting eleven for the first time in a League One game since the season began.
Lee Cattermole has been marvelous over the last month or so and rightly keeps his place in the side, though with Power absent he’ll likely operate in a slightly different role, with McGeouch taking up the mantle of the defensive shield in front of the back four.
Attacking midfield: Maguire, Honeyman, Gooch
With Aiden McGeady edging closer to a return, our attacking midfield options may be in for a shuffle soon. Jack Ross also has the option to play Josh Maja in those areas so it’s entirely possible that with the return of Charlie Wyke, he may move further back from his usual striker role and into a position where he can play deeper and link up play - something that will probably best suit his abilities.
For now though, Chris Maguire will continue to play on the left wing, but he may be looking over his shoulder after his recent indifferent performances.
George Honeyman, as captain, probably has the safest position in the side and wasn’t even in the matchday squad on Tuesday night, so it’s a given that he’ll start if he’s fit.
Lynden Gooch has been Sunderland’s most clinical assist-maker so far this season and even earned himself a League One player of the month nomination. He’ll be hoping to add to his tally of four assists so far - and will no doubt be relishing the opportunity to link up with Charlie Wyke.
Striker: Josh Maja
Maja or Wyke? It’s a hard decision for the Sunderland manager to make this weekend but, taking the fact Maja has scored four goals this season and that Wyke isn’t fully fit just yet into account, it’s likely that he’ll give the 19-year old the nod as our star summer signing is eased back into regular action.
We also now have the option of Jerome Sinclair, who is back having missed out since the opening day of the season with a hamstring injury - suddenly we have positive options on the bench, which should stand us in good stead going forward and gives Ross the peace of mind that if things aren’t working, he has the quality to bring on and change it up.
There’s now pressure on Maja to keep his place in the team, though, and it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts. He hasn’t scored in his last three starts and that has to change if he wants to keep his place for the game next weekend away at Burton - will he do it?