Jack Ross made just one change following Sunderland’s agonising one-all draw at Peterborough on Easter Monday as Tom Flanagan returned to the side in place of loanee Jimmy Dunne.
This meant that Sunderland continued in the 4-2-3-1 formation which has been the norm this season. Jon McLaughlin started in goal, behind a back four of Luke O’Nien, Alim Ozturk, Tom Flanagan and Bryan Oviedo. Lee Cattermole and Max Power started in the middle, with the trio of Lewis Morgan, George Honeyman and Aiden McGeady starting behind lone striker Charlie Wyke.
Kenny Jackett made two changes following his side’s two-one win at home to Coventry, also on Easter Monday. Ronan Curtis and former Sunderland “striker” James Vaughan came in for Gareth Evans and Ollie Hawkins.
Like Sunderland, the Checkatrade winners also lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Craig MacGillivray started in goal, protected by a back four of Nathan Thompson, Christian Burgess, Matt Clarke and Lee Brown. Former Burton Albion man Tom Naylor was joined by Ben Close in the engine room, with the trio of Jamal Lowe, Brett Pitman and Ronan Curtis starting behind the Premier League’s youngest ever goalscorer, James Vaughan.
Someone needs to get past Wyke
George Honeyman has divided opinion this season, but whatever your opinions on the Sunderland skipper he was extremely poor against Portsmouth yesterday. In fact, regardless of how well he plays I’m not sure he’s the right man to start in that number ten role when Charlie Wyke is the man up front.
Wyke’s been one of Sunderland’s better players for the last month now, but he remains a league one level striker - and that means that he doesn’t have it all. He’s not the type of player who can come short, hold up the ball and then spin in behind and stretch defences - that means he needs some help.
Wyke’s role in the Sunderland team is largely a supporting role, and that means that the attacking trio behind him need to offer a goalscoring threat - and George Honeyman just isn’t that type of player.
The most obvious change to make would be to bring Chris Maguire back into that central role now he’s back from injury. Maguire’s natural pressing up the pitch and willingness to run in behind could help to take the heat of Charlie Wyke, and help Sunderland to getting that all-important second goal to kill games off.
Rest up, and go again in the play-offs
With yesterday’s draw and Barnsley winning against Blackpool Sunderland’s place in the play-offs is practically confirmed, and with a number of players playing through knocks - the main one being Aiden McGeady - Jack Ross would be wise to pick his final two starting elevens of the league season with the play offs in mind.
The situation Sunderland find themselves in reminds me of Huddersfield’s promotion to the Premier League three seasons ago. Despite having an outside chance of catching Newcastle in second place, David Wagner chose to rest his tired squad for the last few games of the season to give them the best chance of winning the play offs. They won, beating Reading on penalties at Wembley after a goalless draw.
Whilst some players could do with a rest, others could probably do with some match practice, Chris Maguire has recently returned from injury and looked a bit rust despite showing glimpses of quality when he came off the bench against Portsmouth, and Grant Leadbitter hasn’t player much football since Wembley a month ago.
Meanwhile Luke O’Nien has hardly been afforded a rest since coming into the side at right back, and he went off with a knock on Saturday meaning it would be wise to give him at least the midweek game off to recover. Furthermore, Aiden McGeady has been playing with a broken foot - it would be stupid to risk him collapsing in a largely pointless game against Fleetwood or Southend.
The size of the pitch at Wembley should also be considered, and even players who are not injured but could simply do with a rest should be preserved for a two-legged semi-final and, if successful, up to 120 minutes of a large pitch.