After a couple of games off as Sunderland were in cup action, Lee Burge will return to his starting berth for the visit of MK Dons this afternoon.
An argument could be made that Anthony Patterson has put pressure on Remi Matthews for the back-up spot, but there is no question that former Coventry man Burge is the number one.
CB: Willis CB: Wright CB: Sanderson RWB: O'Nien LWB: Hume
Sunderland are in the midst of a crisis at the heart of defence at the minute, with long-term injuries to Arbenit Xhemajli and Morgan Feeney combined with Conor McLaughlin and Tom Flanagan's international call ups leaving Phil Parkinson short at the back.
On top of the four definite absentees, Jordan Willis showed in midweek that he's clearly not fit, but Phil Parkinson has shown little sign of letting that stop him from selecting one of his first-choice defenders.
A good performance from Oliver Younger against Fleetwood may have prompted Parky to rest Willis, but injury cut his promising debut short and the only other option today would be the play O’Nien or Dobson out of position.
Presuming that Willis does play, Sunderland’s wing backs will be the first-choice duo of Luke O’Nien and Denver Hume with the latter in need of a good performance to stave off the challenge of Callum McFadzean, who misses out against MK Dons due to injury, but has impressed in both of the recent cup games.
CM: Scowen CM: Leadbitter
Elliot Embleton’s return to fitness over Sunderland’s break from League One has given Phil Parkinson a decision to make regarding who starts in midfield. To fit both Embleton and Gooch in the side he is likely to change to a box midfield, with two sitting players behind two attacking midfielders.
Two players almost guaranteed to start this afternoon are Grant Leadbitter and Josh Scowen. Leadbitter has been Sunderland’s standout midfielder this season while Scowen is competing for his place with Power and Dobson – two players who have failed to show any signs of regaining their starting spots.
AM: Embleton AM: Gooch
If Phil Parkinson is to start Elliot Embleton, Chris Maguire is the player most likely to miss out. However, these two players don’t represent a like-for-like swap, especially with Maguire taking up the role of second striker in Parkinson’s 3-5-2.
As mentioned, Sunderland will likely switch to a 3-4-2-1 if Embleton does start, and this is a formation that can also get the best out of Lynden Gooch, who mentioned on a recent club podcast that his preferred position is on the left of a front three.
Up front, much like at the other end of the pitch Sunderland have a clear first-choice as things stand. Charlie Wyke will have seen little to threaten his position from the performances of Grigg, Graham and O’Brien over the past week.
The former Bradford is currently in his best form as a Sunderland player, and he will be looking to further consolidate his position as the club’s leading striker.