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Starting XI: TWO CHANGES! Is this the Sunderland side that will take on Charlton Athletic today?

Is this the Sunderland team that will take on Charlton Athletic in our important League One promotion face-off today? We’re predicting two changes.

Image: Getty Images

Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin

McLaughlin has secured two clean sheets in the last three games and will be hoping to maintain that run in a week of crucial games. With Luton due at the Stadium of Light next Saturday, today’s trip to The Valley makes this a promotion double-header.

McLaughlin has been a solid signing and has helped Sunderland to enter the new year in a strong position. To maintain that in the second half of the season, Ross knows his side must turn draws into wins and secure one of the promotion spots as soon as possible. McLaughlin knows, with Sunderland’s ability to find the net on a regular basis, any clean sheet he can maintain will go a long way to realising the club’s aims for the season.

Jon McLaughlin has been a key signing this season
Image: Getty Images

Defence: O’Nien, Flanagan, Baldwin, James

Jack Ross has confirmed that Bryan Oviedo has recovered from the back injury he sustained against Shrewsbury last Saturday. With Reece James restored to the starting line-up for the trip to Blackpool, there is no urgency to rush Oviedo back. However, having the option from the bench may help Sunderland as the game progresses, either in defence or to aid the attack.

Ross also confirmed that Adam Matthews is still unavailable. Therefore, it’s likely Ross name an unchanged defence from New Year’s Day. On that occassion, Sunderland kept their second clean sheet of the week. Today will be a huge test of the rearguard as Charlton have scored 20 goals in their last 10 home games.

Luke O’Nien has performed well as an emergency right-back and aquitted himself well during the past five games. Having come into the side for the FA Cup replay against Walsall, he has scored against Portsmouth and been part of the defence that has kept clean sheets against Bradford and Blackpool during the past month.

In the middle, Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin have come through the Christmas period and will be hoping for a week’s respite before the visit of Luton Town next weekend. Today, though, they must be on their mettle to keep Charlton’s formidable duo of Lyle Taylor and Karlan Grant quiet. The pair have 26 goals and 10 assists between them and will be keen to add to their tally today as Charlton seek to close the gap on their visitors.

Luke O’Nien and Reece James are likely to occupy the full-back roles again today
Image: Getty Images

Defensive Midfield: McGeouch & Power

As Lee Cattermole collected his booking at Bloomfield Road on New Year’s Day, word filtered round that he would be suspended for the crucial games this week. The two-game ban means he misses the trip to The Valley today and Luton’s visit to the Stadium of Light on Saturday. Like Max Power before him, the ban will also mean he’s ineligable to play against Newcastle U21s in midweek.

With O’Nien operating at right-back, George Honeyman still struggling with an ankle injury, and Elliot Embleton extending his loan spell at Grimsby, Ross’ options in the middle are somewhat limited. Dylan McGeough has been used from the bench in recent games, whilst Bali Mumba, who started the opening game of the season against Charlton, is another option. However, it is the experienced Scot who will likely get the nod over the teenager this afternoon.

McGeough’s ability to retain possession and spring attacks will be needed today if Sunderland are to catch the home team on the counter-attack. For as much as McGeough has divided opinion, perhaps the hustle and bustle of League One doesn’t showcase his talents as much as a higher division could in future years. For now, though, it is hoped McGeough and his abilities compliment partner for Max Power and together they can be effective against a top side in this division.

McGeough is likely to replace the suspended Lee Cattermole today
Image: Getty Images

Attacking Midfield: Maguire, McGeady & Gooch

Charlton are unbeaten in seven games at home and have kept four clean sheets during that run. In fact, they have only conceded eight goals in the last ten home matches. Today, they face a side that has scored in every league game in this division, so it will be a tough test for both sides this afternoon.

Over the festive period, though, Charlton have had a few wobbles of their own on their travels. Defeat at Coventry and then Barnsley between Christmas and New Year means they have three points from a possible nine and conceded five goals in their last three games. For Sunderland to have their best possible chance of an away win, Jack Ross has to take the game to the home side and play off the front foot.

This season, the trio of Chris Magure, Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch have given Sunderland the best platform to do just that. Today may be no different. With Charlie Wyke returning from injury, perhaps two games in quick succession may be asking a lot of the former Bradford man, so it’d be no surprise if Maguire returns to the side today.

Lynden Gooch grabbed the late winner when these teams met at the start of the season
Image: Getty Images

Striker: Josh Maja

This week we have heard that Josh Maja has informed Jack Ross that he wants to stay and sign a new contract. However, news emerged yesterday that his agent has advised his client not to sign, despite the club-imposed deadline for accepting the deal. Both manager Jack Ross and owner Stewart Donald have urged fans to support the striker as the club seeks a resolution to the current impasse.

It will be interesting to see the effect it has on the youngster today. Jack Ross has said his relationship with Maja won’t change, regardless of any outcome, and such is the form Sunderland’s top scorer that it’s unlikely he’ll miss out today.

For Sunderland to come away with a positive result, much will depend on Maja finding opportunities today. With Charlie Wyke and Duncan Watmore in the matchday squad, Ross will have options throughout the game to secure successive away wins and find some breathing space from the chasing pack. With neither Portsmouth nor Luton in league action today, today’s game provides an opportunity to close the gap on the leaders, too.

Maja scored at Blackpool on New Year’s Day
Image: Sunderland AFC