Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Sunderland’s nine-goal thriller (or was it more horror show?) against Coventry has rightly caused fans to question the gung-ho approach and leaving our goalkeeper hopelessly exposed.
Midfielder Grant Leadbitter has called for calm, pointing to the fact this was only the third defeat Sunderland have suffered in the league and the first at home all season. The former Boro man was quick to acknowledge the mistakes made during the game on Saturday and the need to put those right as quickly as possible by improving performance levels.
One player who has remained calm throughout the season and provided consistently high levels of performance is Jon McLaughlin. The goalkeeper was rarely called out in the various dissections of the defeat last Saturday and the Scotland international will hope the defensive work done behind the scenes this week will have addressed the concerns regarding those operating ahead of him.
Defence: O’Nien, Dunne, Baldwin, Oviedo
Jack Ross spoke of handling the pressure, particularly at home, in the aftermath of the 5-4 defeat to Coventry City. Ross needs characters and mental strength to get this club over the line and promoted at the first attempt and tonight’s game will be a test of both, especially for the defence.
The luxury of having a few days on the training ground between games could not have come at a better time as Ross and his management team find a way of lifting the players for the final push.
Maintaining his ambition to be bold whilst tempering the gung-ho approach of some of his players will invariably lead Ross into making changes tonight. They may be tactical or they may be personnel.
Denver Hume could replace Bryan Oviedo or Jimmy Dunne could come in as a direct replacement for either Tom Flanagan or Jack Baldwin. Such has been Flanagan’s form in the past week or so, it’d be no surprise if Dunne were to partner Baldwin tonight.
Wholesale changes may not be the order of the day and Oviedo may retain his place ahead of the challenge from Hume, but a renewed focus on defending first and foremost may be the order of the day for both full-backs.
Too often Luke O’Nien has been caught in advanced positions down the right whilst Oviedo’s penchant for attacking equally left space in behind him. Jack Ross will hopefully use the time on the training pitch to correct this ahead of Doncaster’s visit.
Midfield: Leadbitter, Cattermole, Power, Honeyman, Morgan
Jack Ross will have some tough decisions to make for this evening’s game. The warning signs were evident against Burton last Tuesday and brutally exposed by Coventry on Saturday, but Sunderland simply can’t afford to play an inverted 4-4-2.
Having flying full-backs to support the pair of central midfielders whilst the wide attackers support two strikers leaves the central defenders horribly exposed. Tonight Ross may opt to revert to his 4-5-1 system to ensure a decent Doncaster side don’t have the freedom of the Stadium of Light.
Bringing Lee Cattermole back into the fold would be the ideal move. His partnership with Leadbitter was flourishing until the exertions of Wembley took their toll on Cattermole. Having shaken off injury to be among the substitues on Saturday, Jack Ross has confirmed he is fit enough to start tonight.
One key player still missing is Aiden McGeady. Ross mentioned how he perhaps shouldn’t have played last weekend and hasn’t trained all week. The loss of the Irishman has perhaps been most felt as Sunderland won only a single point from the last two games, but with Chris Maguire in contention for a return, probably from the bench, it is hoped Sunderland can bounce back against Doncaster this evening.
McGeady’s continued absence would mean George Honeyman and Lewis Morgan once again provide the width, whilst Cattermole’s return alongside Leadbitter would push Max Power into a more advanced role. Having scored last week, the former Wigan man may fancy his chances again tonight.
Strikers: Charlie Wyke
This week Will Grigg admitted that he is isn’t fully fit and actually can’t remember the last time he was 100% going into a game. A rest this evening may not be such a bad move for the 27-year-old. The League One record signing will be needed as the season comes to an end and the example Jack Ross has shown with Aiden McGeady and Lee Cattermole now needs to be applied to Grigg.
Charlie Wyke has become the form striker in recent games and Ross may look to Wyke to lead the line himself. Two goals in three games could have been more had the woodwork not saved Burton Albion.
The challenge for Sunderland is to get bodies in and around the central striker to ensure his goalscoring run continues tonight.