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Starting XI: Is this the Sunderland side that will take on Port Vale this evening?

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Who do you reckon will make the starting 11 when Sunderland look to progress in the Papa John’s Trophy tonight?

Milton Keynes Dons v Southampton U21 - EFL Trophy Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Saturday’s draw against Northampton marked Lee Johnson’s fifth game in charge at the Stadium of Light. And, despite a mixed record so far (two wins, two draws and one defeat) his team selection is beginning to show a few common themes.

It’s difficult to assess how seriously Lee Johnson intends to take these cup ties since his only such game to date was his second game in charge, and the strong team selected for that game can be put down to a willingness to get to know his players as quickly as possible.

At least one change will be made tonight, with Dion Sanderson cup-tied. New signing Carl Winchester is unable to make his debut for the same reason.

Beyond that, I think we’re unlikely to see a chance given to any unknown quantities, but that doesn’t mean Johnson won’t see tonight’s game as a chance to experiment before the more important league campaign resumes.


GK: Matthews

It’s quite likely that Remi Matthews would have been given a run-out regardless of the eye injury picked up by Lee Burge on Saturday evening, but his inclusion is a near certainty now there is a chance he could be needed for the upcoming League games if Burge requires time on the sidelines.

The former Bolton stopper was barely troubled after coming on at half time against the Tigers, with the away side having their best spell of the game around the time where Burge spilt the cross that led to their only goal of the game.

If he is needed on Saturday, this will be a good chance to get a few more minutes under his belt, but regardless after Burge’s error, there is half a chance that with a good performance tonight Matthews could put the pressure on the former Coventry ‘keeper’s starting spot.

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet League One
Burge’s injury will likely mean a return to the starting XI for Matthews
Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

RB: McLaughlin CB: Wright CB: Willis LB: McFadzean

As I mentioned in the introduction, Dion Sanderson is certain to drop out after appearing in the early rounds of this competition for Wolves’ youth side. However, a direct replacement is available with Jordan Willis training after an illness kept him out of the Hull game.

There’s a slight chance that the former Coventry defender could find himself playing at full-back after Conor McLaughlin’s half time substitution due to injury, however, since Johnson’s assistant Jamie McAllister didn’t mention him by name in yesterday’s press conference it appears he will be available to take up his role on the right of defence.

With Denver Hume still injured Callum McFadzean is the only option at left-back, especially with Sanderson also missing, while Bailey Wright has been an ever-present since his former Bristol City gaffer walked through the doors. Tom Flanagan’s injury means it's unlikely he will get a rest here, since his replacement Ollie Younger was kept on the bench while Power moved to play at full-back on Saturday.

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

RM: Embleton CM: Power CM: Scowen LM: Maguire

Midfield is probably the hardest part of the pitch to predict for tonight's cup clash.

Lee Johnson has played 4-3-3 from the start in all of his games in charge so far but has twice shelved his starting formation at half time in favour of more attacking threat in a 4-4-2 formation.

The starting line up I've predicted could line up in either of those formations, but I'm predicting a 4-4-2 meaning Elliot Embleton and Chris Maguire acting as the wide players in place of Aiden McGeady and Jack Diamond - two players who have had a lot of football in recent weeks.

In the middle of the park, it is probably wise to give Grant Leadbitter a rest given we don't have much cover in his position and I would like to see Scowen and Power genuinely fighting to see which of the two will keep their place alongside Leadbitter and newbie Winchester for the next league game.


ST: Gooch ST: Graham

If Grant Leadbitter does drop out, Sunderland will find it much easier to operate with two strikers, even if the names in line for a start don't set Red and White pulses racing.

Charlie Wyke is far and away Sunderland's best fit senior striker, a fact which is a depressing reminder of how far we have plunged into a mediocre League one team.

On just as depressing a note, it turns out Danny Graham is just as bad as we all remember, even two tiers down the pyramid. But he's come off the bench in the last two games so is the obvious choice to come in for Sunderland's top scorer.

Alongside him, after giving him 45 minutes in that position on Saturday, Lee Johnson mentioned that the role of "nine and a half" is one which he thinks Lynden Gooch will suit well. That sounds like a hint that the American will be the latest man tasked with solving Sunderland's poor goalscoring record since the departure of Josh Maja. Hopefully, he can show tonight he's an upgrade on his likely striker partner at the very least.

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Checkatrade Trophy Final Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images