Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Robbin Ruiter has played every minute of the Checkatrade competition up to this point, but will Jack Ross now change focus and play his strongest team? There is an argument for remaining loyal to the Dutchman who has helped to get us to the semi-finals, but football is a results driven game. With the opportunity to reach Wembley and potentially win our first trophy since 1973, Ross would be forgiven for opting for the stongest side possible from hereonin.
Therefore, we are predicating the Scottish international will retain his place from Saturday and look to build on successive clean sheets to help us to Wembley.
Defence: Matthews, Baldwin, Flanagan, Hume
Jack Ross has said he intended to use the competition as both an opportunity for fringe players to gain playing time and a route for the Academy products to progress towards the first team. Tonight may be no different and the Sunderland manager will have had a queue of such players outside his office in recent days staking their claim.
Alim Öztürk is one who will be pushing his claim, having appeared in previous rounds, whilst Glenn Loovens and Jack Baldwin have lacked gametime of late. Baldwin may be the one to convince the manager to play him tonight and break up the Jimmy Dunne-Tom Flanagan partnership from recent weeks. We expect Dunne to be the one rested.
At full back, Adam Matthews has been kicking his heels since recovering from injury as Luke O’Nien has cemented his place at right-back. A player out of contract this summer, Matthews will be eager to play a part in the journey to Wembley and press claims for a league start.
On the left, Bryan Oviedo is back training but this game may come a little too soon in his recovery. Denver Hume, meanwhile, is at a stage where he needs to be playing again and could be included tonight at the expense of Reece James. Hume made a positive impact in the earlier rounds and would be seen as both a safe bet for tonight’s game whilst continuing his own developement towards a regular first team career on Wearside.
Midfield: McGeough, Power, Honeyman
Dylan McGeouch was billed as the summer’s big signing and that tag was beginning to be justified just prior to Grant Leadbitter’s arrival.
The Scot has dropped down the pecking order as a result of the former Academy star returning to Wearside, but tonight gives Jack Ross the opportunity to bring him back into the fold in order to show his worth. McGeouch’s control and awareness would be a good replacement for Leadbitter and certainly would not weaken the midfield significantly.
Alongside McGeouch, Max Power would be the obvious choice tonight, having lost his own place to the returning Lee Cattermole. Two goals in three games for the former captain has been as suprising as it was welcome, but tonight Power’s availability allows Ross to shuffle is pack.
Skipper George Honeyman may be the midfielder who retains his place this evening. The effective way he links midfield to attack is a key component in Sunderland’s recent play and his role will be crucial this evening. A hint that this may be on the cards was evident in last night’s selection of Bali Mumba for the Under-23 game.
Forwards: Watmore, Gooch, Wyke
Duncan Watmore has used this competition as his own personal recovery vehicle. Ross has given the forward ample time to get his sharpness and fitness back and tonight may be another opportunity for Watmore to impress. He is the only member of our forecasted team to have started the league game at the Memorial Stadium ten days ago and his presence could guide others with less gametime through the match this evening.
With Kazaiah Sterling cup-tied, Ross could opt to retain one of Aiden McGeady or Lewis Morgan from Saturday or bring Lynden Gooch back in. The American has missed a few games now and tonight could be a chance to play him. Offering him a role just behind Charlie Wyke could be an interesting formation, especially with Watmore running beyond. Supporting the striker may just help Wyke’s game too.
Wyke needs a positive game and to find some confidence. A series of injuries, selection choices and unfulfilled cameo appearances have given fans the impression that the fomer Bradford man may struggle in a red and white shirt. Were he to build upon the goal he scored against Newcastle in an earlier round by securing Sunderland’s place at Wembley, he may begin to turn around perceptions and rebuild his reputation on Wearside.