Sunderland put in their best performance of the season on Saturday afternoon as they thrashed high flying Lincoln City. With that in mind, we can't expect Lee Johnson to make many changes to the team that started that game, but players like Chris Maguire who grabbed an assist when coming off the bench will be knocking on the new manager's door eager for a start in this new, attacking Sunderland side.
It’s almost certain that Johnson will make at least one change to the side that started against Lincoln, with Josh Scowen a doubt after going off with an injury in that game. With the midfield an area of the pitch where Sunderland lack some depth, the new manager may be tempted to change formation to get an extra attacking player in the side. Here's the team I think will start this evening.
After a bit of speculation over whether or not Lee Burge was worth persisting with ahead of youngster Anthony Patterson, the former Coventry stopper proved his worth with an excellent bit of goalkeeping to keep the score nil-nil inside the opening fifteen minutes.
If it wasn’t for Burge in those opening minutes, the game could have gone very differently, and he’s surely cemented himself as the number one for both this game and beyond.
RB: McLaughlin CB: Wright CB: Flanagan LB: McFadzean
Sunderland’s defensive situation has started to brighten up over the weekend. This game will come too soon for Jordan Willis, but he is getting closer to a return, whilst youngster Morgan Feeney made his return from injury for the under 23s in their 3-1 win against Norwich yesterday.
Despite these green shoots, the same five players are available for tonight’s game, and I’m predicting an unchanged defence as a result. Bailey Wright, Tom Flanagan and Callum McFadzean are all the only fit options for their respective position even if the Australian could clearly do with a rest.
This means that Conor McLaughlin is the only defender with competition for his place, but I expect him to get the nod ahead of Dion Sanderson; if the Wolves loanee was to get a start I believe this would have been in Saturday’s game.
DM: Leadbitter CM: Embleton CM: Power
With Josh Scowen a doubt for tonight’s game, a change is almost certain to come in midfield tonight. With Scowen missing, Power and Leadbitter are almost guaranteed to start one again with a number of different players battling it out to join them in the starting line up.
Perhaps the player most deserving of another chance is Chris Maguire who assisted Charlie Wyke’s second - and Sunderland’s fourth - goal at Sincil Bank. However, Maguire’s inclusion would require a complete change of system to either a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 which is something I believe Johnson is unlikely to do coming off the back of such an impressive performance.
This leaves three players for Johnson to choose from as Scowen’s replacement: Dan Neil, George Dobson and Elliot Embleton. Dan Neil’s inclusion in the squad is likely, but since he couldn’t find his way onto the bench on Saturday it seems that he is behind the other two options in the pecking order at the moment. Dobson replaced Scowen on Saturday and is the most like-for-like replacement on paper, however, with Sunderland up against a side happy to let us have the ball I think the more attacking option of Embleton would be a better choice and would be able to contribute to the quick counter-attacks we saw on Saturday.
RW: Diamond ST: Wyke LW: McGeady
When a side scores three goals in 45 minutes its unlikely that any manager will make a change to their attacking line-up.
For that reason, Jack Diamond, Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady should all start tonight, with the only question being whether or not McGeady is fit enough to play two games in four days. If he isn’t, Chris Maguire is a like for like replacement on the left-wing.
Diamond and Wyke were probably Sunderland’s best two players against Lincoln, and their performances will be rewarded with starts tonight. Let’s hope for another exciting game against Wimbledon tonight.