GK: Lee Burge
Following the departure of Jon McLaughlin, Lee Burge is now unequivocally Sunderland’s number one. Burge is a good quality keeper and was unlucky to find himself playing second string to McLaughlin as the season drew on, the only thing perhaps keeping Burge from the starting XI was how much credit in the bank McLaughlin carried from the season before.
Given the depth in the squad, Burge won’t be finding himself under any pressure to perform from any of his understudies, most important tomorrow is Burge acquainting and asserting himself behind his back three.
CB: Jordan Willis, Bailey Wright, Tom Flanagan
A strong back three for sure, but given the assumption these will be our starting back three come the curtain-raiser, it’s crucial these players get competitive minutes under their belt, especially given the enforced and elongated break forced upon them all.
Starting strong is key for all men and again, whilst nobody finds themselves under immediate pressure, a good showing with plenty of energy will stand them in good stead.
For Bailey Wright this is an excellent opportunity to build fitness and strength given his lengthy layoff before last seasons premature end.
RWB/LWB: Luke Onien, Denver Hume
Given a lack on incomings in either area, I’d imagine the squad to have a very familiar feel to it. Not a lot can be said for either player as with the current squad depth and minimal pressure for their places, today looks set to be a casual run out for two of the more athletic members in the side. Again, getting competitive minutes is the key, so don’t be surprised to see either player rack up 60+ minutes.
CM: Max Power, Josh Scowen
For the lesser-seen Scowen, this game may be set to be an opportunity for the player to stake his claim to a starting role. The opinion of many fans is that the primary midfield partnership on offer should be that of Scowen and Power, with today providing a great chance to toy with that possibility.
As for Power, coming back for pre-season behind the rest of the squad hasn’t been an ideal preparation for the skipper, so I can imagine Parkinson will be keen to put his captain in for at least the first 45 to get some minutes in the legs to prevent him falling any further behind in terms of match fitness.
Forwards: Lynden Gooch, Chris Maguire, Will Grigg
Completing what I anticipate to be a fully first team like up are Gooch, Maguire & Grigg. Again, with only 18 players to choose from the scope for change and experimentation is limited at best, but where Parkinson can tinker is with Grigg.
Plenty has been said about the former Wigan man but this could well be the last throw of the dice where he’s concerned - but it looks as if Grigg may be up for the challenge.
Upon his return to training, Grigg has looked more sleek than his former self and all accounts suggest his fitness and sharpness has trended in the same direction. A good performance would certainly throw the cat amongst the pigeons early doors.
Out wide the usual suspects of Gooch & Maguire will look to get up and running, with the former looking to continue on his impressive form from last season. Again, for these two key figures, today will be primarily about clocking up the minutes - however, with new signing (yes, we made one) O’Brien keen to make a mark himself, Gooch and Maguire are in the minority of players who may have some pressure on their starting place come two weeks time, so a strong start is imperative for either man.