GK: Jon McLaughlin
Jon McLaughlin has been Sunderland’s player of the season so far and, on Saturday, was yet again our top performer. It goes without saying that without him we’d have lost that game.
Jack Ross appeared to laugh off remarks made regarding his keeper having a good game after Saturday’s match, suggesting that it’s daft to continually highlight the fact that he’s just doing his job.
And I suppose you can see his point - but I’m sure we’d all be far happier if we were playing well enough whereby McLaughlin wasn’t doing even half as much as we’re asking of him at present.
Defence: Matthews, Dunne, Baldwin, James
Sunderland were all over the place at the back at the weekend - the defending for Oxford’s goal was completely inexcusable, particularly when you see just how high up the park our line was, and the manner in which we conceded.
I wouldn’t split up the pairing of Jimmy Dunne and Jack Baldwin again because constantly swapping central defenders won’t help our chances of keeping much-needed clean sheets. I can see the arguments for restoring Tom Flanagan to the lineup, but we have to persist with this pairing.
Adam Matthews was probably our worst player at the weekend but he’s feeling his way back into first-team football and, when fully fit and sharp, he’s a real asset in the final third.
His compatriot on the other flank, Reece James, also had an afternoon to forget and I think that this performance highlighted just how limited he is as an all-rounder.
Will Grigg will only succeed at Sunderland if we give him good service, and in Bryan Oviedo we have a player who, when in the opponents half, always looks to beat his man and deliver a cross into the box.
I like James, and I think he’s been relatively consistent this season, but he doesn’t add a great deal from an attacking perspective down that left hand side - luckily for him, Oviedo is sidelined with a calf injury, so the former Wigan man is likely to retain his place.
Midfield: McGeouch & Leadbitter
I’m gambling here, but surely Jack Ross can see what everyone else has been able to see for months now - Max Power just isn’t influencing games in the way he needs to, and it’s perhaps time to bring back a player to the side who never did a thing wrong to lose his spot in the first place.
Dylan McGeouch is the perfect foil for Leadbitter in that he’s determined when out of possession and is very useful when in it, which in turn should allow his more attack-minded partner to control the game further up the field.
Our wingers rely on the central players to get the ball into their feet quickly, so hopefully a return to the side for the Scotland international will give us the impetus needed in order to create more and get over the fact we seem to struggle to create chances.
Attack: Morgan, O’Nien, McGeady
Again, I’m writing this on the assumption that Jack Ross will break from his comfort zone and reinstate a player who did very little wrong in the first place to lose his spot - but can we really afford to ignore the fact that Luke O’Nien keeps on impressing when he’s on the pitch?
George Honeyman has only just returned from a lengthy lay-off, and with three games in the space of seven days it seems unlikely that he’ll be asked to start in all three of them.
If we aren’t going to play two up top then we need to start a man who is capable of breaking between midfield and attack. Getting someone close to Will Grigg, occupying defenders and making late runs forward seems logical if we’re going to try and take the game to Blackpool - so slotting O’Nien into our side, just ahead of the more disciplined pair of Leadbitter and McGeouch, seems a sensible approach to take.
Up front: Will Grigg
He worked his socks off at Oxford but even saying he had scraps to work with would be overdoing it - we can’t expect Grigg to perform if we don’t find a system that suits him.
It would be the perfect occasion for Grigg to get off the mark with his first Sunderland goal, or goals - and with the fact we haven’t scored more than once in a league game since mid-December hanging around us like a bad smell, it seems almost essential that the priority of the rest of the team should be finding a way to play the ball to Grigg in dangerous positions.