Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Jon McLaughlin has explained how the Sunderland squad are now focused and determined to win promotion come May. The disappointment of Sunday afternoon is now behind the squad as they look forward to tonight’s league game.
Starting this evening, McLaughlin knows nine clean sheets from nine games will give Sunderland the platform to secure second spot from Barnsley.
The Scottish international has been inspirational this season and one of Jack Ross’ key performers. That form needs to be in evidence this evening, as the game at the Crown Ground is arguably more important than Sunday’s game was at Wembley for Sunderland’s ambitions this season.
Defence: O’Nien, Baldwin, Flanagan, Hume
The final on Sunday has taken its toll within the squad and Jack Ross will be more limited in his team selections than in recent weeks. Despite this, I’d expect Ross wants to keep the side as together as possible and make only enforced changes.
To that end, I’d expect Luke O’Nien, Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin all to start tonight. Reece James came off on Sunday and was replaced by Academy star Denver Hume with an apparent injury.
Many fans have been calling for Hume’s involvement and Ross confirmed the youngster has been close to a start in recent weeks. Tonight, it is expected that Hume will start and ensure the back-line that finished extra-time at Wembley will take to the field against Accrington Stanley this evening.
Defensive Midfield: Grant Leadbitter & Dylan McGeouch
In midfield Grant Leadbitter may be fresher than Lee Cattermole, having come off for Charlie Wyke in the first period of extra time. Ross may be tempted to rest Cattermole and bring in Dylan McGeouch to play alongside Leadbitter.
The suggestion is both the players operate in the same role, deep in midfield and sitting just in front of the defence. Tonight, one or other will be required to fill Cattermole’s role, which is a little more advanced. That may fall to Leadbitter, where his range of passing can be exploited, whilst allowing McGeouch to recycle possession a little deeper.
Attacking Midfield: Gooch, Power, Morgan
With George Honeyman once more suspended for the league campaign, Max Power will likely be asked to play the advanced role he occupied at Barnsley and against Walsall. Perhaps pushing him outside his normal comfort zone, Power hasn’t looked out of place in a more attacking role in the absence of Honeyman.
Playing either side of Power may well be Lynden Gooch and Lewis Morgan. Morgan’s energetic runs from the right in the first half on Sunday were a key threat to Portsmouth, but with Aiden McGeady named as a serious doubt for this evening, Morgan may be asked to operate from the left. This would allow Gooch to drive forward in his more natural right-wing role. Both wide players need to support the striker in the manner Morgan showed at Wembley.
Striker: Charlie Wyke
Up front Charlie Wyke is the likely replacement for Will Grigg. Ross has spoken how his medical staff are having to manage an injury to Grigg’s ankle and an on-going fitness issue as a result. Tonight, and maybe for a few games beyond, Grigg will have to be eased into gametime, but this gives Charlie Wyke a great chance to prove his worth.
Claiming a valuable assist deep into extra time on Sunday, Wyke’s strength to win the ball, composure to chest it down and pass it out to McGeady was one of the best moves in his short Sunderland career. Hopefully that will have given him a little confidence going into this evening.
Whilst Grigg hasn’t scored the goals many expected, the Irishman’s work rate has been impressive. Wyke will have to do likewise, but scoring the odd goal wouldn’t go amiss either.