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Is this the STARTING XI that Jack Ross will pick for Sunderland’s pre-season game v Heerenveen?

The real thing starts this time next week, and RR’s Graham Falk thinks that Jack Ross will go with this side for our final dress rehearsal as Sunderland take on Eredivisie side SC Heerenveen at the SOL tonight.

Belenenses v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Goalkeeper: Jon McLaughlin

Summer signing Lee Burge kept the net for the Lads’ opening games of pre-season against South Shields and Benfica B, but big Jon is Jack Ross’ number one goalkeeper and he’ll be wanting to give him as much match practice as possible.

Whilst the former Coventry City goalkeeper has done himself no harm with two clean sheets this summer, Ross will want to have a solid end to the pre-season on home soil with no slip ups, and go with tried and trusted in Jon McLaughlin.

Belenenses v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Defenders: C. McLaughlin, Flanagan, Willis

Jack Ross appears to be attempting to adopt a 3-4-3 formation this season as to challenge his usual 4-2-3-1 shape, and we expect him to continue with the defence that started against Belenenses.

Although signed as a right-back, it’s well known that former Millwall man Conor McLaughlin is comfortable on the right hand side of a back three, and has impressed in each of his performances. Ross will likely want to test him in a back three against the Eredivisie side before deciding on whether to implement a back four, or a back three, heading into our league opener against Oxford United.

Alongside him, key summer signing Jordan Willis picks himself after looking head and shoulders above our other centre-halves, whereas Tom Flanagan appears to the best option to sit alongside him in a back three.

Benfica B v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Midfielders: O’Nien, Leadbitter, McGeouch, Hume

The lovable Luke O’Nien has played exclusively in midfield in pre-season, as he looks to grab a spot in his favoured position. He wore the number seven shirt against Belenenses and we expect he’ll be given another opportunity to cement his place for our League One opener the following weekend.

Grant Leadbitter should continue in the middle, with Max Power still nursing himself back to full fitness. Dylan McGeouch should slot in beside him, as he has done for the majority of July.

The left hand side picks itself in this formation, with Bryan Oviedo seemingly not in next season’s plans. Denver Hume will be handed the task of bombing up and down the left hand side in his favoured wing-back role.

South Shields v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Forwards: Watmore, Grigg, Embleton

Despite rumours the club are looking to move big-earner Duncan Watmore on, he’s been a focal point over the summer and seems to have pushed himself into Jack Ross’ thinking. Whilst his final ball leaves a lot to be desired, Ross has often spoken about his ability to get us up the pitch and it would be fair to say he’s been one of our better players over pre-season.

On the left flank, we expect local-lad Elliott Embleton to provide the ammunition for £3m man Will Grigg. Another who has been impressive in pre-season, the former Grimsby Town loanee will want to impress further and show the manager that he can step up and be the man to unlock League One defences next season.

We may see Charlie Wyke at some point, and perhaps new signing Marc McNulty, but we’d expect Ross will give Will Grigg every chance to bag a goal in front of the home crowd, which will hopefully inject some confidence into the misfiring striker.

Sunderland Pre-Season Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

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