Q: What would your cup final team be, and why?
I’m going with my heart over my head here but I believe that the enormity of this occasion and what being there in a Sunderland shirt means to some of the players should be factored in when making our team selections.
Jon McLaughlin is the first name on the teamsheet for obvious reasons, but beyond that I’d be a little more thoughtful about what we do.
At left back I’d opt for Denver Hume over Reece James and Adam Matthews. I actually think he’s a better all-rounder than both of the other two, but he’s just been unfortunately injured this season when he might have had more chances to impress. He looked good when he came on against Walsall, and taking both that and the fact he’s been in the academy for such a long time into account I’d push, perhaps controversially, to give him the start.
I’d stick with Baldwin, Flanagan and O’Nien making up the rest of the defence, and then the local trio of Cattermole, Leadbitter and Honeyman should start in midfield - again, because such an occasion calls for players who completely understand what it means to be out there on the pitch representing the supporters. Max Power will be unlucky to miss out, and I really rate what he offers in terms of character, but I’m not sure he’s the number 10 that we need on such a big pitch. That, and Honeyman is our captain - the local lad has to lead his team out on the grandest stage of them all.
Like McLaughlin, McGeady is an immediate pick, but on the right I’d opt for Lynden Gooch ahead of Lewis Morgan. Again, he’s been at the club since he was a child and being afforded the chance to play in such a huge game for HIS club gives him that edge over the rest for me. The Wembley pitch is huge and that’s when Gooch is at his best - and his defensive covering will be useful also.
Up top I’d go with Will Grigg, though it’s not like he has any competition really.
So, aye - a very local theme to my team selection, which I think is important.
Craig Davies says...
I’d be amazed if Jack Ross changes the tactical formation just for the cup final. He’s a cautious pragmatist rather than a risk taking maverick and it would surprise me if he decided to go hell for leather at Wembley with an all-out-attack frame of mind. He’s comfortable with this style of play and knows the system, so it’s understandable if he sticks to his guns.
Saturday’s match against Walsall was a symbol of the challenges of Ross’ system against tough to beat sides who are also adept to putting the boot in. I must have bored my mate silly on Saturday by constantly pointing out the distance between a Grigg and any other player in red and white. At times the space between them was so vast and stark, Grigg looked frustrated and isolated. It was the same against Barnsley and a host of other matches since his arrival. The key for Wembley in my mind is bringing out the best of our expensive star striker. Unless you play McGeady as a support striker in a more central position, Grigg will struggle to look as sharp as he can.
I thought the entrance of Wyke on Saturday changed the dynamic of the game. Suddenly there was just an extra body - to make a nuisance of himself, to pick up a free kick or two, to give their centre halves another conundrum to ponder, to allow Grigg to find the spaces that this other body created. This led to the goal about 2 minutes into Wyke’s arrival on the field of play. I’m not saying, start with Wyke per say, I’m just saying Grigg is so much more threatening when he has someone close enough to support him.
Our goalie speaks for himself. McLaughlin has been solid and dependable all season. Kept us in games and gained us points at times. I’d persevere with our human cannon ball O’Nien at right back. Despite what he may offer elsewhere, he’s forced himself to become our best right back. Baldwin would come in at centre half with Flanagan. Baldwin proved again on Saturday that he and Flanagan are our strongest partnership. I’d play the fit again Hume at left back.
In midfield, you can’t knock the effort or experience of Leadbitter or our free-scoring attacking midfielder Cattermole. On the wings I’d play Morgan and Gooch. Upfront I’d play McGeady as a false 9 supporting Grigg. Wyke is a great option from the bench. For me Grigg and McLaughlin hold the key to victory in two weeks’ time and making them as dangerous as possible will surely see us to a well deserved victory.
Neil Green says...
I’m making my team selection based solidly on the fact that I have no responsibility and can do all sorts of sh*t I wouldn’t have the balls to do if I was actually the manager.
Jon McLaughlin picks himself. It’s in his contract. Robbin Ruiter must be livid.
In defence I’m going with Baldwin and Flanagan as our best central defensive pairing because the transfer window is closed. Matthews comes in as our best natural right back, because I can’t stand seeing him on the left any more. Left back goes to Denver Hume. His pace and directness I think will be devastating as he gets more experience, and it’d be great to see another local lad winning at Wembley. Also his name sounds like a country singer / philosopher and there aren’t enough of those.
I was wary of Leadbitter and Cattermole when they first started together, but they’ve quickly become the heart of the team, so they stay in.
McGeady on the left is a no brainer, but I’m going with Honeyman on the right wing. I think he does a better job than Gooch out there, he makes better choices, plays better balls, and he can still move inside and link play with Matthews overlapping him to give width. Honeyman on the right makes room for beautiful beautiful Luke O’Nien to take his rightful place as a box-to-box grinning labrador. He can keep Portsmouth’s centre backs distracted, making room for Grigg, and when we’re defending he’s got he energy to get back and get stuck in.
Will Grigg starts up front because goals.
My choice of manager for Wembley is Jack Ross.
Mark Carrick says...
Jon McLaughlin will clearly start in goal. Had Ross not made the switch from Robbin Ruiter in the semi-final at Bristol Rovers it would have been harsh on the Dutchman to miss out on playing at Wembley. However, Ross elected to use his no.1 in the closing stages of the competition and I’d expect the Scotland International to start the cup final.
A settled defence has been Ross’ quest throughout the season. Reece James has become the left-back of choice whilst Luke O’Nien has made the right-back spot his own. The former Wycombe midfielder has been transformed into a solid enough defender for League One. I’d expect both to start the cup final.
In the centre of defence I’d have said Tom Flanagan and Jimmy Dunne were shoe-ins before this week. But Jack Baldwin has returned to the side in impressive form at Barnsley and cemented his position against Walsall. Tom Flanagan would be my choice alongside him as I just feel he is a better defender than Jimmy Dunne. The on-loan Burnley man hasn’t realised the potential that prompted Ross to move for the former Hearts man in January.
A defensive midfield pairing of Grant Leadbittter and Lee Cattermole now seems an obvious and automatic choice. Experience and ability at this level, it is hoped they will form the backbone of a cup-winning side.
Further up-field, I’d expect captain George Honeyman to start ahead of Max Power. It may be a little harsh on the former Wigan man after his displays at Barnsley and against Walsall, but Honeyman is key to Ross’ style.
I’d expect Ross to ask Grigg to lead the line. With goals now being added to his obvious work-rate, the Wembley pitch may play to his strengths.
Lining up in support of the lone-striker will be Aiden McGeady and one other. McGeady’s place is assured after a fine season on the left wing, whilst the options on the right are perhaps more fluid. Lynden Gooch is most effective on the right, whilst Lewis Morgan has performed well in the league recently. Can Chris Maguire make a fairy-tale return? I suspect his best chance is from the bench and so I’d go with Gooch. There’s not much to choose between him and Morgan, but having signed a long-term deal and been at the club from a young age, he is Sunderland through and through and would play with passion and commitment.
So that’s my team - one I’m convinced can secure the first trophy of the Jack Ross era.