GK: Jon McLaughlin
Despite the good performance from Lee Burge on Tuesday night it’s expected that Sunderland’s regular number one will return to the side - though he’s got some convincing to do after a short spate of indifferent performances.
McLaughlin has failed to keep a clean sheet in the opening two games of this season and, upon reflection, it has to be said that he could have done far better with both goals that he’s conceded since the campaign started.
Burge reminded everyone in midweek that he’s capable of stepping in and performing, and that has to be playing on McLaughlin’s mind going into today’s game. He has to be on form, showing the class we became accustomed to witnessing last season.
DR: O’Nien DC: Willis DC: Ozturk DL: Hume
I’m only expecting one change to the defence that started on Tuesday, with Denver Hume returning at left back in place of Conor McLaughlin to add some balance over on that side of the pitch.
McLaughlin has been unfortunate since the season started, and arguably has suffered from being asked to play in multiple different positions. He made a mistake leading to a goal against Oxford, struggled at left back in the second half at Ipswich and then gave away a daft penalty in the League Cup game at Accrington in midweek.
But, there can be no room for sentiment. Luke O’Nien is simply a better fit right now on the right and the defence was far better on Tuesday, so Jack Ross would be foolish to change too much. Added to that was the pairing of Alim Ozturk and Jordan Willis in the centre, who seem to compliment each other well with their differing characteristics.
Willis brings the pace and power, whilst Alim has the aerial ability and no-nonsense style of defending that our back line has perhaps lacked in the opening two league games.
This, on paper, looks like the most balance defensive selection that Jack Ross can make right now. Consistency at this early stage is key, and making as few changes to our defence as possible will give Sunderland the best chance of finding that first clean sheet.
CM: Power CM: Dobson
Max Power was, by all accounts, Sunderland’s best player on Tuesday night and has staked a real claim for a starting berth today. With Dylan McGeouch only returning back to training on Thursday, it’s likely that Power will retain his spot in the side to add the bite and leadership we need in such a high stakes game against good opposition.
Alongside him is likely to be George Dobson, coming into the side in place of Grant Leadbitter. The 21-year old former Walsall captain has been one of Sunderland’s best performers in league action and is more than capable of playing in the deep-lying central role vacated by McGeouch, giving us the legs we need in a two-man midfield.
Last season Portsmouth often overran us when we played slower players in those central positions, and that has to be taken into consideration today. This simply isn’t the game for Grant Leadbitter, and I hope Jack Ross doesn’t get sucked into making safe picks.
RAM: Gooch CAM: Maguire LAM: McGeady
Lynden Gooch is Sunderland’s top scorer so far, with two goals from the first two league games. He’s performing far better than he did last season and, by virtue of the fact he’s scoring, he’s probably the first name on the teamsheet today.
I’m interested to see how he and Luke O’Nien could link up down the right hand side, with both men working hard at both ends of the pitch. If Gooch can continue to play more like a winger - i.e., bombing on down the right and using the touchline to his advantage, instead of cutting inside and holding onto the ball too long - then we can really devastate Pompey’s left by overloading them with our two most hard-working players.
Chris Maguire was the main protagonist when these sides met in the Play-Offs at the end of last season and, on another big occasion, I think Jack Ross would be foolish not to select the former Pompey forward in a bid to mentally take control of the game in the early stages.
Maguire had the Portsmouth players wound up in both legs of the semis in May but also showed his quality in front of goal when it counted. He’s unavoidably the best number ten in Sunderland’s squad and whilst he can be frustrating - as displayed on Tuesday when he was far from his best - he’s the right man for the occasion this afternoon.
On the left should be Aiden McGeady, who showed his devastating class with his sublime goal at Accrington. He’s our best player and was a real miss through injury in these games last year, so will no doubt be chomping at the bit to batter Pompey just like he did in the EFL Trophy Final, when he scored twice to haul Sunderland into the occasion.
ST: Marc McNulty
This goes without saying, doesn’t it?
Marc McNulty has really impressed me since arriving (shameless plug - read my in-depth piece on why from earlier this week here) and he’s undoubtedly proven to everyone that he is, right now, Sunderland’s best centre forward. Will Grigg hasn’t scored a single goal since pre-season started despite featuring in every game, and now is the time that he drops to the bench and we go down a different, more logical route.
Charlie Wyke came on at Accrington and scored, but he’s just returning from injury and should be introduced slowly. With Maguire in support, McNulty should be more than capable of continuing his fine start to the season by putting his old club to the sword - I have a feeling that, come full time, we’ll be talking about yet another fantastic performance from the Scotland international centre forward.