Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Jon McLaughlin will be hoping that Jack Ross’ call for six victories from the remaining six home games brings with it six clean sheets. Having started and ended the month with one, the Scottish international will hope his defence remain resolute today against a Plymouth side who have scored in all bar two of their eleven games since Boxing Day.
During that run Argyle have bagged an impressive 19 goals, five of which came in last week’s victory against Rochdale.
However McLaughlin has proved his worth on numerous occasions this season and will be looking forward to having a further week’s rest following this game, as the goalkeeper shirt will likely be handed over to Robbin Ruiter for the midweek cup semi-final.
Defence: O’Nien, Flanagan, Dunne, James
Luke O’Nien continues to impress with his work-rate and attacking strength from his new role at right-back. Scoring his fifth goal of the season, he set Sunderland on their way against Bristol Rovers last weekend. With Adam Matthews now fit, O’Nien is no longer a stop-gap option but a serious contender for the fullback spot.
In the central positions Jimmy Dunne and Tom Flanagan look like being Ross’ preferred partnership for the league run-in. This may seem harsh on Jack Baldwin, who has been a solid defender during much of the campaign, but back-to-back wins means stability is being found within the team. A clean sheet last time out would also suggest a change in defence is not required.
Reece James has been the topic of some debate this week but with Bryan Oviedo still unavailable it is unlikely the former Wigan defender will be missing this afternoon. The return to fitness of young Denver Hume may yet offer some serious competition in the coming months, but the Academy product is more likely to come into Ross’ thinking for the midweek cup game than today’s league match.
Defensive Midfield: Grant Leadbitter & Lee Cattermole
Jack Ross’ decision to put Lee Cattermole into the starting line-up against Gillingham raised a few eyebrows, yet a goalscoring return at home was followed up with a strong defensive performance away at Bristol Rovers to ensure Sunderland have taken maximum points since his return.
Cattermole’s form is reminiscent of earlier in the season where he surprised a few people, having remained at the club after a summer of change. The former captain is here on merit and his emerging partnership with Grant Leadbitter may yet see Sunderland add a further twist to the automatic promotion places.
Leadbitter himself has arguably been the signing of the January transfer window in League One. His set-pieces have turned Sunderland’s fortunes around and we now look dangerous at every corner or free-kick delivered into the box. Leadbitter’s calmness and ability to both shield a back line and find the right pass to turn defence into attack has been key in recent games.
The Stadium of Light is a special place for the former Academy product and today is another opportunity for the midfielder to run the show at home.
Attacking Midfield: Morgan, Honeyman, McGeady
Aiden McGeady continues to prove why he is arguably the best player in League One -a stunning free-kick against Bristol Rovers last weekend added to his impressive goal tally of 10 league goals in 22 starts. His goal killed off Rovers after Luke O’Nien had opened the scoring. Hopefully the Irishman continues his strong form today.
George Honeyman’s return has coincided with an upturn in points and has brought a degree of balance to the side once more. The captain has been an impressive and effective performer this season, leading by example and driving the team from midfield.
On the right hand side there is perhaps the opportunity, maybe even the need, to change a winning side. Duncan Watmore played another 67 minutes of competitive first team football against Bristol Rovers last week, but Jack Ross remains committed to managing Watmore through this season.
Does a week without a game offer back-to-back starts for the young forward, or will Ross shuffle his pack on the right hand side? Lynden Gooch is fit following a strain that kept him out of last week’s game, whilst Lewis Morgan had an immediate impact upon the game when introduced for Watmore last week.
The on-loan Celtic winger created a number of chances that perhaps on another day would have seen Charlie Wyke bag a couple of goals. Fans have expected a lot from Morgan on the basis of his previous spell with Jack Ross and today may be a further opportunity for the wideman start at the Stadium of Light.
Whoever gets the nod between Watmore, Gooch or Morgan, it will be a key role to create chances for Will Grigg to showcase his talents in front of goal.
Striker: Will Grigg
Will Grigg was signed to score goals, but his all round contribution and assists have been an impressive side to the striker’s game so far. One goal from the penalty spot during our last home game will not be the last we see of Grigg celebrating this season, that’s for sure.
Hopefully another goal may be added to his tally in front of the home fans today.
Charlie Wyke may get a chance later in the game where it is hoped he might partner Grigg rather than replacing him. Wyke needs a confidence booster, especially after missing a few chances last week. The fact Sunderland can, on paper at least, boast two good League One strikers bodes well for the run-in if Ross and his chosen team can get the best out of them.