Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
They say you’re at your most vulnerable just after you score. Recently Coventry, Peterborough and Portsmouth have all showed that Sunderland are at their most vulnerable during the 15 minutes that follow scoring a goal.
Much has been made of Sunderland’s 19 draws this season and the stats relating to the keeping of clean sheets have often been sorry reading. For the large part, Jon McLaughlin has been excused much blame and pushed Aiden McGeady for the end of year award as Player of the Season.
But now, with two games remaining and the probability of extending the season by at leats two, but hopefully three, games via the Play-Offs, McLaughlin and his defence have to find a last push if promotion is yet to be achieved.
A clean sheet tonight, and again on Saturday, would certainly breed confidence going into this most crucial period of our season.
Defence: O’Nien, Öztürk, Flanagan, Oviedo
Alim Öztürk was one of the options the club twitter account put forward as Man of the Match against Portsmouth. That represents a huge change in both opportunity and perception for the former Turkish U21 defender.
He has came into the side and certainly not looked out of place. Alongside goalscorer Tom Flanagan, the heart of the Sunderland defence stood firm, by and large, throughout the contest. Likely, that display will ensure both players start this evening.
Luke O’Nien was replaced by Adam Matthews late on and may be a concern for this evening. Jack Ross could opt to start the Welshman tonight, but if O’Nien shakes off his knock he won’t be giving up his shirt without a fight.
On the left side Bryan Oviedo is likely now to see out the season whilst leaving Reece James or Denver Hume on the bench.
Midfield: Maguire, Cattermole, Leadbitter, Morgan
The midfield and attacking options are perhaps the biggest dilemma for Ross tonight. Stick or twist? Bring in Dylan McGeouch, Grant Leadbitter or Chris Maguire for some renewed match-fitness or keep the balance of the side? Does Ross revert to 4-4-2 and bring back Will Grigg, meaning a formation change for his midfield?
It’s a tough one to call, but perhaps the manager will see this as an opportunity to get some players back into the fold. Certainly resting Aiden McGeady, who is playing through the pain barrier, is a sensible call. Lewis Morgan could switch to the left-hand side, allowing Chris Maguire to start from the right.
In the middle of the park, bringing back Grant Leadbitter would also be a sensible decision in getting the former Boro man firing ahead of the Play-Offs. This would mean dropping Max Power, but the midfielder would be ready to come back in at a moment’s notice. Utilising Dylan McGeouch this week, perhaps Saturday, would also be a consideration.
Strikers: Will Grigg & Charlie Wyke
Bringing Will Grigg back to the starting line-up may serve the dual purpose of ensuring Sunderland finish the campaign with six points and entering the Play-Offs in determined fashion, as well as helping the striker to maintain a level of fitness for the former Wigan man to contribute towards promotion.
Charlie Wyke has performed well in recent weeks without his strike partner but he clearly prefers the support around him. With two wins the aim this week, starting both would be a positive statement. Skipper George Honeyman may have to make way today, but keeping the full squad ticking over ahead of the Play-Offs would be a sensible approach.