GK: Jon McLaughlin
Sunderland’s number one didn’t have the greatest start to the season last week against Oxford, and didn’t seem entirely comfortable with playing out from the back or the pressure continually put on him by the defence in front of him with their dodgy back-passes. He probably could have done better for Oxford’s goal, and wasn’t particularly assured for the dubious second goal that our opponents had chalked off for a foul.
That said, he’s still our best player and there won’t be any shock changes between the sticks. McLaughlin had been continually linked with a move away from the club over the summer, but now that the Championship window has closed we can perhaps afford to relax and the former Burton Albion man can go out today and earn his first clean sheet of the season. Jack Ross has set a target of 20 clean sheets - and, whilst that puts pressure on our number one, it’s the type of pressure you surely want as a player.
DCR: Conor McLaughlin, DC: Willis, DCL: Flanagan
Again, I don’t see any rash changes being made in defence unless there’s an injury issue we’re unaware of. Our back three looked dodgy last weekend but it needs time to settle and these players need the chance to establish their partnership and work on what is a new system with new players.
Conor McLaughlin was arguably at fault for the goal we gave away last weekend, whilst Jordan Willis continually misplaced passes and Tom Flanagan was a passenger in an area of the field where Oxford looked to exploit the amount of space we left in behind whenever Denver Hume marauded forward.
All three men need to give better performances today if they are going to prove themselves as worthy of starting each week in the eyes of both the supporters and the manager.
RWB: Gooch CM: McGeouch CM: Dobson LWB: Hume
Lynden Gooch, Dylan McGeouch and George Dobson were three of Sunderland’s better performers last weekend and I doubt they’ll be taken out of the team on the back of that showing. Denver Hume, however, had a torrid time at left wing back and is likely to start today by virtue of the fact that we have nobody else in the squad who can play his position.
Jack Ross heaped pressure on the young academy graduate’s shoulders this week when he publicly admitted that we need to sign another player who can provide Hume with competition. Knowing that another signing at left-wing back is imminent, Denver surely knows he needs to have a good game to prove to everyone that whilst another player may well be on their way to the club over the coming weeks, he’s first choice in that position and anyone wanting to take it from him will do so knowing that they have a fight on their hands.
RAM: Maguire ST: McNulty LAM: McGeady
Up top is where I expect to see changes in Jack Ross’s side.
Generally, Sunderland’s all-round play last weekend was functional at best. We kept the ball for large periods, worked it wide into dangerous areas - and struggled, massively. This was in large part due to two things - Will Grigg’s total lack of movement, and the fact we had no attacking midfield players proficient in sniffing out chances from loose balls on the pitch.
Chris Maguire and Aiden McGeady are individuals in every sense of the word, but having a couple of players on the park who are ball greedy and want to create their own chances isn’t the worst thing when the rest of your team seems incapable of crafting opportunities.
Marc McNulty’s movement was fantastic last weekend, and his interplay with Maguire and McGeady could be deadly. The three scored five goals between them when they played together against Hartlepool a few weeks back and hopefully that plays on the mind of Jack Ross today, who must recognise the need for his side to go out there today and throw everything at winning the game at all costs.