Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Jon McLaughlin hinted that Sunderland’s run of nine games in a month was a challenge the whole squad was up for. With promotion beckoning, The Lads would need to win the bulk of those games and McLaughlin was eyeing a number of clean sheets along the way.
The first game on that run began on Wednesday evening at Accrington and Sunderland got off to the best possible start with a 3-0 away win.
For McLaughlin the clean sheet was as important as the number of goals scored. Today the Wearsiders visit Rochdale, languishing second bottom of the table. Jack Ross knows this is a great chance for Sunderland to push on again, whilst McLaughlin will be keen to ensure there are no slip-ups at the back.
Defence: O’Nien, Baldwin, Flanagan, Hume
Denver Hume replaced the injured Reece James on Wednesday night and immediately staked a claim to start again this afternoon.
Building on his cameo appearance at Wembley, the Academy star showed why he is so highly-rated and will be a key player in Ross’ teams for a few years to come. James, whose injury precludes him from playing today anyway, is certainly not guaranteed an instant return as Hume offers something different to the attacking intent of the side as well as being a sound defender.
Elsewhere it is unlikely Ross will tinker too much with his back four. Adam Matthews remains unavailable, but with Bryan Oviedo, Jimmy Dunne and Alim Öztürk all named on the bench against Accrington, Ross does have one or two options. Jack Baldwin was involved in some great defending at the Wham Stadium, whilst both Tom Flanagan and Luke O’Nien looked assured in their surroundings, so all three will be hopeful of retaining their places at the Spotland Stadium.
This is another away game where Sunderland will look to take three points by building on a strong defensive display.
Midfield: Morgan, McGeouch, Leadbitter, McGeady
Calls for Dylan McGeouch to be given a chance were rewarded on Wednesday evening as Ross was without both key midfielders following the gruelling cup tie last Sunday. Lee Cattermole missed out with injury and remains unavailable this afternoon, whilst Grant Leadbitter was named on the bench in midweek. Leadbitter will expect to play this afternoon meaning Ross must make a choice between Max Power and McGeouch. The former Hibs midfielder hardly put a foot wrong against Stanley and will certainly be keen to retain his place today, meaning Power may sit this one out to accommodate the former Boro man. Club captain George Honeyman may have also have to settle for a place on the bench, if Ross retains the tactics he deployed on Wednesday evening.
At Accrington Ross sprang something of a surprise with two up front. The success of that formation may see Sunderland line up similarly today as they face another side struggling at the wrong end of the table.
Lynden Gooch started in midweek alongside Aiden McGeady. Having set Sunderland on their way after just four minutes, McGeady was withdrawn at half-time with an ankle problem. At his press conference Jack Ross mentioned the Republic of Ireland star was a concern for this weekend. Sunderland will hope McGeady’s ankle has responded to the rest and he is ready to take his place against Rochdale. Lewis Morgan replaced him and impressed once more in the second half. Having rotated Gooch and Morgan in recent games, it’d be no surprise to see the Celtic loanee given the nod to start today, whether McGeady makes it or not.
Strikers: Will Grigg & Charlie Wyke
Two strikers and Sunderland score more than the customary single goal - surely that’s no coincidence. Such was the partnership that Grigg scored for second league game running, both times with Charlie Wyke on the pitch.
Getting the best from the former Wigan striker has been the test during this run-in and having a partner certainly seems to have helped recently.
For his own part, Charlie Wyke can take a great deal of confidence from his display. His late assist at Wembley perhaps gave him the platform to express himself more on Wednesday and his display was well received by the travelling fans, who sung his name. His finishing showed a man short on confidence rather than ability and maybe the boost from playing so well in midweek could propel him into today’s game a renewed figure.
A first senior goal for Kazaiah Sterling was the icing on the cake on Wednesday evening and the Spurs loanee will be hoping for more game-time today, even if that is from the bench once more.
Goals for any of our strikers against Rochdale today will certainly set them, and the team, up for the visit of Burton on Tuesday evening. The Midlands side are the only team other than Portsmouth to beat Sunderland in the league this season, so three points from a confident performance will be a huge boost ahead of that return game.