The play-off final is such a huge game. The team that started at Portsmouth were there to enact a game-plan, but on a much bigger pitch it’s safe to say that we’ll probably have to be more expansive against a better team in Charlton.
There are a number of selection headaches facing Jack Ross - Aiden McGeady, if fit, is our most dangerous weapon. Chris Maguire is the man for the big occasion and effectively won us our place with his performances over both legs. Grant Leadbitter played despite having to deal with the death of his mother. George Honeyman, whose form hasn’t been great and his role isn’t defined, is our captain and that gives the boss a tough decision. Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg are vying for the starting role up top and as neither are scoring goals it makes choosing who starts a tough decision.
So, with that in mind....
Q: What starting XI do you think we should go with in the play-off final, and why?
Tom Atkinson says...
The choice of goalkeeper speaks for itself. Jon McLaughlin was nothing short of heroic during the second leg against Pompey.
In defence, I think Ross should stick with the same back four that held Portsmouth to a handful of clear chances across two legs. Ozturk and Flanagan surprisingly compliment one another rather well, and in O’Nien and Oviedo we have legs that will continue to hassle in defence and push forward when the opportunity to attack presents itself.
In midfield, however, I would make a change if given the opportunity. Aiden McGeady has consistently proven himself to be a player capable of providing a touch of magic at any given moment. If he is fit, then he needs to be worked into the team somehow. The triumvirate of Cattermole, Leadbitter, and Power really impressed me on Thursday evening. As such, McGeady’s inclusion would have to come at the expense of either Chris Maguire or George Honeyman. There’s a part of me that thinks Maguire likes to be given freedom to really get at the opposition, yet I’m not sure Ross will offer him that role as part of the starting XI. I would be tempted to hold him on the bench if McGeady is fit, and then introduce him on the hour mark to give Pompey something else to think about (hopefully whilst we are a couple of goals to the good). Honeyman’s work rate and desire should not be underestimated - especially in a game of such importance. His energy and determination will be crucial to take the game away from Charlton.
Up front it’s got to be Charlie Wyke. He gave Portsmouth’s giant central defenders a real game on Thursday and Charlton could well struggle to combat his ‘bull in a china shop’ approach. He gives us an outlet and will let the likes of McGeady, Maguire, Morgan and Gooch the time and space they need to find a moment of magic.
I can’t wait to see how the Lads get on. Ha’way!
Chris Wynn says...
Who plays in nets is a no-brainer, with McLaughlin in the sticks. Let’s hope he takes the semi-final form into the final.
As much as I’m not convinced about Flanagan and Ozturk individually, getting a clean sheet at Fratton Park means they deserve their place in the middle. I just hope Ross talks to Flanagan about giving away possession of the ball so easily by trying passes he’s not capable of pulling off. He has more talented players ahead of him in midfield and it’s frustrating when he doesn’t play an easy ball. Although I thought O’Nien had a couple of nervy moments early on at Portsmouth he settled down to produce a decent performance, especially considering his altercation with our friend from the Goonies. Quick mention on Oviedo being one of our better performers lately and him having by far the best delivery into the box, here’s hoping his up for the final push.
After the second leg heroics, the trio of Cattermole, Leadbitter and Power deserve their place. I don’t think it’s an emotional decision to do that, I haven’t seen a Sunderland side control a game that well for a long time and they were the main reason for that.
Now the tricky decisions. Out wide it’s all about fitness. If there’s any question mark around McGeady he stays on the bench - McGeady coming off injured would take the wind out of players and fans.
The impact of that eventually means for me he has to be confident of being fit to make the XI. If he doesn’t make it, I’d go for Morgan. The reason for that is because Maguire would be on the opposite side and out the remaining options, Morgan has the most pace. Honeyman and Gooch wouldn’t give a quicker alternative to Maguire and I think having to players in wide positions who don’t have a burst of pace causes problems especially on the counter attack.
Up front, and it might be harsh, but I’d go for Grigg. Wyke has done a job over the last few games but I think we can play through Charlton with that midfield and Grigg looked sharp when he came on at Portsmouth. Wyke would give us a more useful option upfront whether we’re ahead and needing to hold it up or behind and maybe play a the ball a bit longer.
I can’t see Jack Ross agreeing me but that would be my XI. Whatever the starting line-up is it’s down to Ross to get them in the right place mentally.
Just one more push lads and lasses, and we’re there!
Mark Carrick says...
I think it’s a really tough call. There are a number of players who have contributed to the club making it past Portsmouth whilst there are a number of players who missed out, despite playing key roles throughout the season. I don’t envy Jack Ross one bit!
The first name will be Jon McLaughlin - my Player of the Year. Without him we simply wouldn’t be here.
I would argue the defence stays as is. Jack Baldwin has been in and out of the side - systematic of his hot and cold form this season. Jimmy Dunne has been a functional loan signing but never really shown the talent for which he is so highly rated. Both of these players lost their place due to the rise of Alim Ozturk. The fact we are talking about him is bewildering given his early season performances. Yet the former Turkish U21 is now Tom Flanagan’s first choice partner. How bizarre!
In midfield Ross has to decide between a three or a defensive duo. For much of the season it’s been the latter but the benefit of a three was shown against Portsmouth. Can Leadbitter and Catts play together in a two, given their lack of pace? Or does Max Power remain a Ross favourite for a starting role?
Further advanced roles have been occupied by Lewis Morgan, Lynden Gooch, Duncan Watmore, Chris Maguire, George Honeyman and Aiden McGeady.
I suspect Honeyman will lead the side out as skipper, so I’d opt for a 4-3-3 formation with the Academy product playing just ahead of Leadbittter and Cattermole. That would allow both Maguire and McGeady (I hope he’s fit cos he’s key!) to play just off Charlie Wyke.
Of course Max Power, Lewis Morgan and the improved Lynden Gooch would miss out on a starting berth but any of those could provide a different kind of problem to a weary Charlton defence in the last 20 minutes.
Will Grigg would also be among the substitutes for me as Charlie Wyke has proved his worth in recent weeks. A change late in the game would once more give Charlton new problems, but Wyke deserves his starting place at Wembley.