Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
McLaughlin showed last weekend just how valuable he is to our side with several important saves during the 1-1 draw against high-flying Luton. This weekend will likely be another one in which McLaughlin will need to be razor sharp.
Scunthorpe are on a decent run at the moment with four wins from their last four matches and seven goals scored whilst only conceding three. A solid display from our Scotland international is just what will be needed if Sunderland are to reignite their push for promotion after three draws in our last five games.
Defence: O’Nien, Flanagan, Baldwin, James
Jimmy Dunne is breathing down the necks of both Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin, but it’s probably more likely that the on-loan Burnley man will be given his first chance to impress in Tuesday’s game against Manchester City’s bairns.
Luke O’Nien has been quality when deputising for Adam Matthews, and his form deserves to be rewarded with more game time. Matthews return does give Ross the option to move O’Nien into the hole left by George Honeyman, but it’s unlikely that Matthews will be rushed back into the action after only recently returning from injury.
James will likely hold the left-back spot with Oviedo struggling to find full-fitness. The former Wigan man has been dependable all season, but like the rest of his fellow defenders, he will need to keep his performance levels high in order to combat a Scunthorpe side in an impressive vein of form.
Midfield: McGeouch, Cattermole, Power
Jack Ross talked up the return of Cattermole during Thursday’s press conference, saying:
Lee again, like George [Honeyman], has had a really positive season. Naturally, when he had that spell of scoring goals it all of a sudden catapulted him back into the headlines.
But his overall contribution both on and off the pitch, so both on a match day and in and around training every single day and the way that Lee trains each and every day is a huge help to me ... So, having Lee back in among the group this weekend is a bonus.
It’s clear to see that Cattermole’s influence is highly prized by Ross, and considering the recent 4-2-4 system hasn’t really produced results, Ross might be tempted to bring Cattermole back into the team to solidify our control of the midfield.
McGeouch sitting deep with Cattermole just ahead of him would allow Max Power to push further forward - something he did with real quality earlier in the season. Seeing the former Wigan man in and around the area would be positive - padding the midfield with Cattermole and McGeouch could allow us to do just that.
Scunthorpe have often played with a 4-3-1-2 formation; if Sunderland can smother the middle and release Power and the wide forwards, we may be able to cause Scunthorpe a host of problems.
Forwards: McGeady, Maguire, Maja
The rescinding of Chris Maguire’s red is positive news for Ross’ plans this weekend. Maguire has been impressive after bagging two goals in his last two games, and if he can hold onto his current form he could be crucial this weekend.
The same cannot be said for poor Lynden Gooch who, despite giving his all in every game, seems to have lost his magic touch after a string of disappointing performances. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him dropped in favour of Lee Cattermole who would move into the middle of the park.
That would mean Aiden McGeady and Maguire would be given the attacking roles out wide where they would look to support and assist Josh Maja. I don’t think Charlie Wyke has been particularly woeful, but when you’ve got a forward scoring for fun, you simply can’t leave him out of the side.
Keeping the creativity of McGeady and Maguire on the pitch is a positive, but Ross must also simultaneously ensure they don’t occupy the same space. Dropping one of the attacking players (Gooch) in favour of another central midfielder would provide the space needed for both to operate freely. A fluid 4-3-3 approach could well enable Sunderland to dominate midfield, but also allow our more mercurial talents the freedom required to really go at the opposition’s defence.