Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Jon McLaughlin will have come away from events of last week with a huge sense of satisfaction - two games, both away from home, resulting in two wins and a clean sheet.
McLaughlin has put the disappointment of losing in the Checkatrade penalty shoot-out firmly behind him and will take his excellent form into tonight’s game against his former employers.
The 31-year-old made over 130 appearances for Burton during 2014-2017 before he moved north of the border to Hearts. Earlier this season, the Scotland international was disappointed to taste defeat at the Pirelli Stadium, the first of only two league games Sunderland have lost all season. Tonight he will be keen to put that right and maintain the unbeaten league run at the Stadium of Light.
Defence: O’Nien, Baldwin, Flanagan, Hume
Having done us a huge favour by beating Barnsley on their patch at the weekend, the Brewers travel to the Stadium of Light looking to do the double over Jack Ross’ side.
They will face a Sunderland back line determined to win clean sheets and provide a solid base for the attacking intent of this side to win the game.
At the heart of the defence stands Tom Flanagan, the former Burton defender who made the switch to Sunderland just last summer. The Northern Ireland international has performed well this season, partnering both Jack Baldwin and Jimmy Dunne throughout the current unbeaten league run.
Tonight, Flanagan will be keen to maintain that form and secure victory over his former side.
Jack Baldwin continues to keep Jimmy Dunne out of the side since his return at Oakwell about a month ago. Similarly, Luke O’Nien has made the right-back spot his own, whilst Denver Hume has come into the side this past week.
With Reece James edging back towards fitness, which of these three will see Sunderland over the line? Bryan Oviedo replaced the youngster at Rochdale and showed good quality. Oviedo was brought on as Ross said he wasn’t expecting to defend much. Tonight Sunderland need a defender first and foremost so perhaps Hume will get the nod once more, especially after providing the assist for Charlie Wyke’s equaliser on Saturday.
Midfield: Morgan, McGeouch, Leadbitter, McGeady
Jack Ross faces something of a dilemma in midfield. Despite Lee Cattermole still being unavailable, Grant Leadbitter was effectively rested during the past week whilst George Honeyman returned to action via the bench. Will either or both make a return to the starting XI tonight?
During the past week both Max Power and Dylan McGeouch have performed well. Ross could keep the same defensive midfield, or maybe opt to bring Leadbitter back, as much for his passing range and set-piece quality as his leadership skills. I think Burton at home was always going to be a big game, but as it’s now a crucial one I’d expect to see Leadbitter restored. I’d opt for McGeouch to retain his place alongside the former Boro man, given his recent form.
Aiden McGeady was desperate to play at the weekend, but was forced to sit out the trip to Rochdale with an ankle problem. Such is the Irishman’s determination to take Sunderland back to the Championship that he won’t want to miss consecutive games, despite being described as doubt during Ross’ press conference. As Lynden Gooch was withdrawn on Saturday, it’s likely McGeady will replace him this evening if he can prove his fitness.
On the right hand side Ross has a clear choice of Lewis Morgan’s direct wing-play or playing skipper George Honeyman in a wide role. The impact the Sunderland captain had in both starting the build up to and scoring the second goal won’t have been lost on Ross. Perhaps with Honeyman’s availability there is some argument for not rushing McGeady back. There is also an option of accommodating both, even if McGeady is passed fit, but that would mean dropping one of his forwards.
It will be a tough choice, but I’d not be surprised to see McGeady passed fit and Morgan retain his place, which would leave Honeyman on the bench once more.
Strikers: Will Grigg & Charlie Wyke
Having started two strikers in the last two games, Jack Ross can be nothing but pleased with their contribution. Will Grigg scored at Accrington whilst Charlie Wyke got a much-deserved goal at Rochdale. Kazaiah Sterling, our third striker, also got on the scoresheet last week to justify the change in tactics.
Returning to the Stadium of Light to face one of only two sides to have beaten Sunderland this season may prompt a few thoughts from Ross. Despite their victory against Barnsley at the weekend, the manager needs to hold his nerve and take the game to our opponents tonight.
Starting two strikers will have the home side on the front foot and with both forwards keen to continue their goal-scoring run, Sunderland can add to the six points secured last week.
The only caution will be the impact of two games in a week for Will Grigg. Ross has spoken of the need to manage the former Wigan man through the final month of the season, but if he is fit the Northern Ireland international won’t want to miss this one.