This afternoon's game against AFC Wimbledon will be a good chance to prove that it was the EFL's coronavirus protocols (or lack thereof) which meant Lee Johnson's side was forced to settle for a draw at the Stadium of Light back in December.
Dion Sanderson and newbie Carl Winchester are both available after being cup-tied for the win over Port Vale during midweek.
Denver Hume has suffered a set back in his recovery which has prompted Lee Johnson to look for reinforcements at left-back. On the other side, Conor McLaughlin is also out of action due to a hernia, and Luke O'Nien remains a week or two away from his return.
Lee Burge went off at half-time with a nasty knock to his eye sustained before his fumble put the Tigers ahead at the Stadium of Light last weekend. Since then, Remi Matthews has done very little wrong for the game-and-a-half he has played, and with Burge absent from the bench on Tuesday night, I think there’s a decent chance that Matthews will again deputise for the former Coventry stopper this afternoon.
RB: Power CB: Wright CB: Willis LB: McFadzean
Max Power has joined a lengthy list of Sunderland midfielders to try their arm at full-back in search of regular playing time. At about this time of the season two years ago, Luke O’Nien made the same switch and hasn’t looked back since, and the former Wigan midfielder will be looking to do the same. I expect him to be given the nod ahead of Dion Sanderson for this weekend’s game as he looks to make the most of the games between now and O’Nien’s return to bed into his new position.
At centre back, one of the main arguments for switching to a four-man defence was the duo of Bailey Wright and Jordan Willis who should, in theory, make up one of the best defensive pairings in League One. Dion Sanderson can count himself unlucky to be dropped if indeed he does miss out in favour of the returning Willis, but when your best players are back they simply have to play together - especially ahead of loanees.
At left-back, Callum McFadzean has disappointed since becoming the first choice by virtue of Denver Hume’s injury. However, he remains the only option in a position that Sunderland are reportedly interested in improving before the end of the month.
RM: Diamond CM: Winchester CM: Scowen LM: McGeady
Max Power’s shift to full back has almost cemented Josh Scowen’s position in the midfield, especially with Dan Neil, who may have been in line for a start after his performance on Tuesday, picking up an injury.
Alongside last January’s signing, the club’s most recent acquisition Carl Winchester should be able to make his debut for the club after missing out in midweek. Lee Johnson mentioned in his press conference that it isn’t necessarily a matter of Winchester or Leadbitter, but the fact that this is a matter which he felt needed to be addressed makes it probable his best duo only includes one of the two.
In the wide positions, Elliot Embleton and Chris Maguire both performed reasonable in these roles from the start against Port Vale, however, Jack Diamond made a positive impact to win a penalty slotted home by fellow winger Aiden McGeady. This makes it likely that both of these two will start as Sunderland resume league action this afternoon.
ST: Gooch ST: O’Brien
One of the main highlights from Tuesday’s win over Port Vale was the performance of Aiden O’Brien, who scored one and created the chance for Jack Diamond to win a penalty leading to Sunderland’s second goal of the game. The man signed from Millwall has disappointed since joining the club in the summer, but his profile seems to fit quite well to play as a striker in a 4-4-2 since he lacks the pace to be effective as a winger.
Lynden Gooch was the man who assisted his striker partner’s goal, and he looks like finally getting his wish to play as a centre forward. Sunderland are pretty well stocked in the wide midfield positions, with Diamond, Embleton, Maguire and McGeady all fighting it out for just two positions so it seems logical that Gooch is given a chance to make one of the two forward roles - where Sunderland are significantly less stacked - his own.