GK: Jon McLaughlin
Whilst calls have been strong from supporters for Lee Burge to be handed a chance between the sticks in league action, I still believe that Jack Ross has faith in Jon McLaughlin and will stick by one of his most trusted players in this game as he seeks to play through what has been a tough patch of poor form.
McLaughlin won’t be available for the EFL Trophy tie with Grimsby anyways, so dropping him and in turn potentially affecting his confidence makes little sense when you consider that we have no choice but to replace him with Burge for the forthcoming game.
DL: De Bock DC: Lynch DC: Willis DR: C McLaughlin
Whilst we didn’t keep a clean sheet last weekend, perhaps the biggest positive to take from the performance against MK Dons was that of our defence. Finally, it would appear that Sunderland have stumbled upon a back four that is functional, resolute and that instills confidence in the supporters watching them.
Laurens De Bock is still striving for full fitness, but his showing last Saturday should give hope to the supporters who had only read horror stories about the Belgian from fans of Leeds United. Similarly, Joel Lynch was derided by fans of Queens Park Rangers when he signed for us this summer yet his performances last week indicate that, despite his age, he’s a player with plenty of upside who has the quality we’ve lacked in central defence for a number of years.
Lynch looks a natural partner for Jordan Willis and the two have attributes that mean they suit one another perfectly. The fact Lynch is left-footed is important, and with two decent players either side of him our defence suddenly looks balanced and competent.
Conor McLaughlin was another beneficiary of Jack Ross’s defensive selections and, in his natural position, the Northern Ireland international gave his most comfortable performance of the season. With Luke O’Nien impressing further forward, the 28-year old has a clear run at making that spot his own and should start again today on the right.
RM: Gooch CM: McGeouch CM: Power LM: Maguire
Much like Sunderland’s defence, our midfield was relatively impressive against MK Dons and I see no real need to change the team too much for today’s game.
Max Power has been impressive since his reintroduction to the side, and he’s undoubtedly flourished without having to do all of Grant Leadbitter’s running for him. He’s far more effective when given the license to break forward in a box-to-box role, and you could just tell with his performance on Saturday that he’s back to enjoying his football.
Power has been allowed to express himself more in large part due to the defensive work of his partner Dylan McGeouch, who is finally back in the starting lineup ahead of Grant Leadbitter. There’s no real reason why Leadbitter should be reinstated to the team today, but you never know when it comes to Jack Ross - he’s a fan of his captain, and McGeouch has been randomly dropped from the team after good performances before, so I wouldn’t be at all shocked if he doesn’t start.
Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire are expected to begin the game out wide, despite Aiden McGeady’s apparent availability, with Elliot Embleton and Duncan Watmore both still on the injured list.
CF: O’Nien CF: McNulty
Whilst he often dropped deep to collect the ball from the midfield, Luke O’Nien was often the furthest Sunderland player forward and he held it up excellently. He scored, but on another day could and should have had a hattrick - there’s no doubting that he was impressive, and that he deserves to once again play in the same role today.
Alongside him I expect to see Marc McNulty, who despite missing the last few games through injury has trained this week and is expected to be available for selection. Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg have done nothing in McNulty’s recent absence to suggest that they should be considered ahead of him, and playing in the style that we did last weekend I feel that McNulty would have had a field day.
I’m not a huge fan of long ball football, but the frequency with which Sunderland got down the sides of the MK Dons defence was promising. If we can have the same success today, with McNulty up top, I’d expect him to get amongst the goals.