Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin
Whilst Southend are fighting for their lives, for Sunderland this game could well be little more than a chance to gain some positive momentum. Depending on which camp you fall into, this evening is a chance to either rest a few players or lay a statement of intent for the forthcoming play-offs.
Either way, Jon McLaughlin will be the first name on the team-sheet once more. Jack Ross spoke this week of taking opportunities at both ends with regards to seeing out games and keeping clean sheets. Four shut-outs in a row would likely see Sunderland back in the Championship.
Just a thought...
Defence: O’Nien, Ozturk, Dunne, Hume
Often I write this article twice. What I would do... and then what I think Jack Ross might do. Sometimes they look very different. But that’s why he’s paid the big bucks and it’s his decisions the team has to stand by.
Considering what Ross might do after his angry rant earlier in the week, the availability of certain players and the need to get a team firing for a four-game mini-season is a tough call. However, I think he may be bold.
It was a brave decision to bring Alim Öztürk back into the side, and that seems to have been widely accepted as a positive move. Against Southend, I think he may bring Jimmy Dunne back. Tom Flanagan was back to his tired, weary state at Fleetwood, and I can see a change coming once more. Dunne has contributed to a number of clean sheets this season and they are badly needed in the the next few weeks.
I can also argue for Denver Hume coming in at left-back. Defend-first has to be the mantra for the defence in the coming weeks and Hume provides youthful exuberance but defensive balance. Similar to Luke O’Nien on the right, the ability to contribute to the attack, but have the pace to recover, will be a key attribute as we enter the play-offs against a couple of tough sides.
Midfield: Morgan, McGeouch, Leadbitter, McGeady
Jack Ross needs to be brave in attack, too. Aiden McGeady remains a doubt and I can’t see him being risked today. He’ll certainly be needed in at least one of the semi-finals and, if we make it back to Wembley, the play-off final. Chris Maguire and Lewis Morgan can provide attacking intent from the flanks today, whilst and all three will be key to Sunderland achieving their aim of promotion in the coming weeks.
In the middle I’d hope Ross mixes it up a little. We have been slow and withdrawn in recent games - especially through the middle. Bringing Dylan McGeouch back into the mix may work well. His ability to retain possession, read the game and look to get Sunderland moving forward will be an asset.
Alongside him I’d hope Grant Leadbitter makes a re-appearance, even if it’s to get some game-time into his legs ahead of the play-off semi-finals. The vision Leadbitter has and his set-piece delivery means he will be vital if we are to end the season well.
Strikers: Will Grigg & Charlie Wyke
Ross has spoken of his desire to see more from Will Grigg. In a week when he also is hoping to have Charlie Wyke available again could he return to 4-4-2? It’s no use asking Grigg to perform and then keep him on the bench, but equally Wyke seems our most effective striker at present.
Is it a risk playing two up front? Perhaps not today, and if the partnership can deliver a glut of goals, bringing confidence to the team as a whole, that would be the best possible platform to enter the play-offs.