Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Our defeat against Coventry and draw away at Peterborough, albeit separated by a win over Doncaster, have many fans resigned to Sunderland taking part in the League One Play-Offs - thus extending our season by two, or hopefully, three games. However, if there is any chance of recovering the situation it starts with victory over Portsmouth today.
Jon McLaughlin will have a personal goal of keeping a clean sheet against Portsmouth today and ensuring the heartbreak of the penalty shoot-out in the Checkatrade Trophy final becomes a distant memory.
This could yet be the final home game of the league campaign and McLaughlin will want to ensure the team go out on a high. The goalkeeper has been one of the stand-out performers in his first season on Wearside, and he will hope to send the fans home happy once more.
Defence: O’Nien, Öztürk, Dunne, Oviedo
It’s a huge call for Jack Ross today in defence. This won’t be an opponent that the manager will take lightly having lost to them in both the league and a cup final this season. Alim Öztürk and Jimmy Dunne have come in and were barely minutes from a second clean sheet in two games. Does Ross maintain faith in the pairing, or does he restore a more experienced centre half in either Tom Flanagan or Jack Baldwin? We had the same discussion ahead of the Peterborough game, but with a far greater rest period between fixtures, Ross may be content to name an unchanged side.
That would allow Young Player of the Year, Luke O’Nien, and Costa Rican international Bryan Oviedo to close the main section of the league campaign in front of the final home crowd of the season - on paper, at least.
For Sunderland to avoid playing again on Wearside, Barnsley have to slip up either against Blackpool today or at Bristol Rovers on the final day of the season. Of course, Sunderland have to do their part and secure three points today.
The full-backs will have to be on top of their game today to both support their attacking intent and defend with discipline against a side that knows victory today will keep their hopes of automatic promotion alive.
Midfield: Morgan, Cattermole, Power, Honeyman, McGeady
How Ross approaches the attacking side of today will also be a huge call. Does Aiden McGeady have enough to continue playing with a broken foot, or will that revelation now make him a target for Portsmouth’s defence? Does Ross risk his talisman as Sunderland need no less than three points to stay in the hunt for automatic promotion, even though it’s now moved out of our hands?
Is Chris Maguire an alternative to McGeady? Or does Ross revert to the system with two strikers that bore fruit following the Wembley defeat by today’s opponents? These are all questions in the attacking third, but with both Grant Leadbitter and Dylan McGeouch available there are choices in defensive midfield areas too.
I suspect, with Max Power hitting what almost became the winner on Easter Monday, that Ross will go unchanged today in that area of the field. The two former Wigan men, Power and Lee Cattermole, will line-up to repel Portsmouth’s midfield whilst George Honeyman will likely captain the side from a more advanced role.
I also suspect Ross will keep faith with a five man midfield and ask Honeyman to play in that central role. Lewis Morgan will likely line up on the right, if McGeady plays, or from the left if Chris Maguire replaces Sunderland’s Player of the Season. That would be my guess today.
Strikers: Charlie Wyke
That leaves Charlie Wyke playing in the lone striking role again today. I think the striker has excelled in recent weeks, both in a pair and alone, and today he will be asked to provide the main focus of the attack once more.
With the option of Will Grigg from the bench to bring a different threat to the Portsmouth defence later in the game, Ross has strength in this department to secure victory on home turf.
Portsmouth’s victory at Fratton Park was somewhat fortuitous earlier in the season where Sunderland were the better side at the break. But for a Glenn Loovens red card and a converted penalty - a ‘double-punishment’ that still rankles a little - who knows how the game may have ended. Similarly, but for one kick at Wembley, the cup final could have swung either way. On both occasions Portsmouth have benefited.
Today has to be our turn!