Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
It seems an age since Sunderland last played - over two weeks, in fact. Part of the reason for the delay was the raft of international call-ups to Sunderland players, yet none of them actually played - one frustrating aspect of being a club languishing in the third tier!
Jon McLaughlin was one of those called up. Whilst he’s been involved in an international training camp and is now a key part of Jack Ross’ preparations running up to today, McLaughlin will be champing at the bit to play in a competitive game again.
The big Scot has been a revelation this season and played his part in getting Sunderland to Wembley with his performance down at Bristol Rovers. Coming up against a strong Portsmouth side means this cup final will be a tough game, but McLaughlin will certainly have his sights on a winner’s medal come tea-time.
Defence: O’Nien, Baldwin, Flanagan, James
Two weeks ago Jack Ross named a central pairing of Jack Baldwin and Tom Flanagan - and it would be no surprise if the Sunderland manager stuck with his two senior, permanent centre-halves and kept Jimmy Dunne on the bench.
Baldwin made an excellent return to the side in the hard-fought 0-0 draw at Barnsley and it will be those qualities he showed at Oakwell that Ross will expect to see at Wembley. Alongside him, Tom Flanagan has been arguably the first name of the team-sheet in defence when available. The former Burton man has largely been in decent form in his maiden season on Wearside.
Another defender who it seems will get the nod over any competitor is Reece James. Against Walsall, Adam Matthews started the game at left-back whilst Denver Hume replaced him on 67 minutes. Both will be pushing claims to start today, but with James fit I can’t see Ross making any other choice.
On the right hand side Luke O’Nien looks set to make an eventful season even more remarkable. Having started the campaign in midfield, quickly losing his place before re-appearing as an emergency full-back, O’Nien has performed so well that he has kept Adam Matthews out of the side on merit. Today, he has the great chance of marking his debut season in Sunderland colours with a cup winner’s medal.
Defensive Midfield: Grant Leadbitter & Lee Cattermole
Grant Leadbitter’s composure, passing and dead-ball ability has seen an upturn in form and Sunderland’s ability to score from corners. Today his presence and ability will be vital.
Alongside him is Wearside’s adopted son, Lee Cattermole - a man who has became the phoenix character in this side. How many times have we thought he was finished and about to leave the club?
Yet, here he is, in fine goalscoring form to boot, about to make his second appearance for Sunderland in a cup final. Having been a pivotal member of Gus Poyet’s League Cup side of 2014, he has (on a lesser scale) replicated that under Jack Ross this season. How many players can match that achievement in Sunderland colours?
Attacking Midfield: Gooch, Honeyman, McGeady
Against Barnsley Jack Ross opted to play Lynden Gooch, whilst against Walsall Lewis Morgan returned to the side. Who gets the nod today will be up for some debate. Morgan looks very effective on the Stadium of Light pitch and Wembley may suit his style, but if Gooch is restored to the right hand side, his direct style could cause Portsmouth untold damage. The chances are both players will make some impact on the final, but I’ll suggest Gooch starts. Perhaps that is heart over head, given the lad has grown up on Wearside, but his passion and pace will be of value today.
Inside Gooch will be the returning skipper, George Honeyman. Having missed the last couple of games through suspension, today’s game will mean more to Honeyman than most.
Having been given the captain’s armband in the summer, the manner in which he has matured and developed under that responsibility has been inspirational to all Academy players. Today he could be the first Sunderland captain since Bobby Kerr over 40 years ago to lift a trophy at Wembley.
Aiden McGeady completes the trio playing just off the main striker. McGeady’s £250,000 price tag has shocked a few people this season and he has arguably been the steal of the decade, should he inspire the club to a cup win and promotion in only his second season on Wearside. Much will depend on is quality today, so let’s hope he’s smiling come full-time!
Striker: Will Grigg
Will Grigg arrived on Wearside to much fanfare and anticipation. Having eased his way into the side through hard work and determination, Grigg now has three goals to his name and will be keen to add at least one more this afternoon. The Irishman will be another key player for Sunderland and it is hoped that chances can be created for him to secure the cup win so many are desperate for today.
Portsmouth will be a tough opponent today and Grigg will need all his awareness and experience to break through the defensive ranks of blue. Yet the striker could be the real difference at Wembley today and achieve what only Ian Porterfield has in post-war Sunderland history and score the winner in a cup final.