Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Scottish international Jon McLaughlin made his Checkatrade Trophy debut in midweek and was his usually impressive self. Today, like the rest of the squad, his focus returns to the league campaign.
With the last three games reaping nine points - and two clean sheets - McLaughlin will be hoping to maintain that run against a Wycombe side that lie bottom of the form table. The Chairboys have scored only three goals in their last five games which offers another great opportunity for a shut-out from McLaughlin and his defence today.
Defence: O’Nien, Flanagan, Dunne, James
It was something of a surprise to see Jack Ross make only a single change to last Saturday’s back four during the Checkatrade semi-final in midweek. Welsh full-back Adam Matthews came into the side at left back, replacing Reece James who had reported a slight knock from the game against Plymouth Argyle.
Matthews did well on his weaker side, but was it enough to change a league defence boasting successive clean sheets? Reece James alongside Luke O’Nien, Tom Flanagan and Jimmy Dunne seems to be Ross’ first choice back line right now. Matthews, Jack Baldwin and Bryan Oviedo may have to work especially hard to replace any of the quartet during the promotion run-in.
For Luke O’Nien today will be a special day. Returning to Adams Park will be an emotional experience for the former Wycombe man. Sure to receive a warm welcome, O’Nien will also be showing his former employers a development path that has converted the midfielder into a highly competent right-back. Here’s hoping for another Man-of-the-Match performance from him today!
Defensive Midfield: Grant Leadbitter & Lee Cattermole
Grant Leadbitter has been simply outstanding since he re-signed in January. Much has been made of his passing and set-piece quality, but it is his ability to adapt to different partners and form a very effective shield for the defence, too, that has helped the side regain their winning form. On Tuesday he partnered Max Power and the two looked as though they’d played together for years. The same can be said of the league partnership with Lee Cattermole.
Today Jack Ross has a decision whether to stick with Power and bring back Cattermole. Having had a week to recover from a minor injury sustained against Plymouth, I would hazard a guess that Cattermole returns. Two goals in three games is an exceptional return for the defensive midfielder, and if he can repeat that feat again today it would set Sunderland up nicely. However, it will be in his defensive duties alongside Leadbitter that Cattermole will be required to nullify any threat from the home side.
Attacking Midfield: Morgan, Honeyman, McGeady
Last weekend George Honeyman scored the decisive second goal to kill off Plymouth. In midweek Lewis Morgan did likewise to ensure Bristol Rovers wouldn’t stage a fight-back of any consequence.
Both midfielders will likely line up alongside potential EFL Player of the Month in League One, Aiden McGeady. Four goals in six games has reignited Sunderland’s push for automatic promotion and has earned him a provisional call up to the Republic squad, as selected by former manager Mick McCarthy.
This trio have brought balance, ability, quality and goals to a side that was previously struggling to register more than a single shot on target. Morgan’s skillful directness has been a joy to watch and on Tuesday a lot more went through the Celtic loanee - switching flanks with McGeady gave defenders something new to think about.
McGeady’s ability to create something from next to nothing has lifted Sunderland in recent weeks, whilst Honeyman’s return has linked midfield to attack very effectively. Having shaken off an impact injury sustained in the cup semi, the captain will lead his side once more today.
Striker: Will Grigg
Will Grigg’s first goal from open play on Tuesday night was something very special. A great ball from Max Power to release his former Wigan teammate was the start, but the movement, touch and finish from Grigg showed why he is a class above at this level.
The League One record signing will be hoping to build on that confidence-booster today. Leading the line and bringing players into play around him has been a key aspect of his game. If Sunderland are now finding the balls into his feet and putting him in on goal there is a high chance his tally will rise significantly in the coming weeks.
Whilst a trip to Wembley for this side is something to be embraced, the sign of a successful season will be evident in league position come May. For Grigg and his teammates, winning today is another step towards that goal.