The last week has been a bit of a summary of Sunderland’s form under Lee Johnson, from the sublime three-nil victory at Plough Lane to the ridiculous two-one defeat to a team that hadn’t won away all season.
Another poor home performance leaves Johnson with questions over some key players his squad, meaning a couple of changes are to be expected as he looks to start repairing Sunderland’s abysmal home form.
Things are looking a little brighter on the injury front, especially since Jordan Willis - who went off with a knee injury on Tuesday night - trained with the team yesterday. Luke O’Nien has been in a couple of squads recently, although he seems out of the running for a wide position since he is unable to take throw-ins following his dislocated shoulder. Danny Graham, Will Grigg, Denver Hume, Tom Flanagan and Arbenit Xhemajli are all still out.
Here’s how I think The Lads will line up.
Lee Burge can’t be held at fault for either of Plymouth’s goals during midweek, even if some claimed an elite-level (for the third tier) goalkeeper could have done better with Argyle’s winner.
The former Coventry stopper is a safe pair of hands in the Sunderland goal, and his position simply isn’t under review until his contract expires in the summer.
RB: Power CB: Willis CB: Wright LB: Sanderson
Despite keeping a clean sheet at Plough Lane last Saturday, Lee Johnson chose to alter his back four, with new right-back Max Power making way for the more natural defender Dion Sanderson. However, Power’s spell on the sidelines didn’t last long, with Jordan Willis’ injury after 36 minutes meaning Sanderson moved to centre back as Power returned to his new right-sided birth.
I said before Tuesday’s game that Callum McFadzean was, due to his status as the only fit left-footed defender, one of the first names on the team sheet, unless he starts to make costly errors that leave Lee Johnson with no choice but to change things up. Those errors were made against Plymouth with the left-back at fault for both of his former side’s goals at the Stadium of Light. With Luke O’Nien out of the equation at full-back, this leaves Power and Sanderson as the likely fullbacks for this afternoon’s clash.
The fact that Jordan Willis didn’t suffer a long term injury on Tuesday night means the potentially rock-solid combination of Wright and Willis can continue after a blip in Sunderland’s last game.
RM: Diamond CM: Winchester CM: Scowen LM: Embleton
After being overlooked for Grant Leadbitter last weekend, Carl Winchester made his first start against Plymouth Argyle. Steady would be a good way of describing the former Oldham midfielder’s display, and given the drop off in the team’s performance it would be tempting to revert to Sunderland’s club captain for this afternoon’s game. However, Winchester has been brought into the club to play, and if Lee Johnson is to take a long-term view he needs to give the new signing a chance to settle into a Sunderland shirt.
Alongside him, Josh Scowen continues to fail to impress, but with Max Power needed at right-back and George Dobson's recent departure on loan, the former Barnsley man is Sunderland’s only feasible option for the role of ball-winner in the middle of the pitch.
In the wide areas, Aiden McGeady isn’t quite the player who seemed like a cheat code under Jack Ross and his constant inclusion is becoming more questionable, especially with Sunderland possessing fairly decent depth in this position.
Elliot Embleton and Jack Diamond are a young pair who are both likely to be at the club beyond the expiration of McGeady’s contract at the end of this season, and if Johnson and sporting director Speakman are to deliver on their promise to built a team around Sunderland’s young talents, these two must start more games together. Tuesday’s poor performance makes this afternoon the perfect time to do this.
ST: O’Nien ST: O’Brien
Just like Sunderland, Charlie Wyke also showed on Tuesday precisely why, despite an impressive goal return this season, he remains somewhat sort of a level required for a promotion-winning centre forward. Lee Johnson was keen to drop Wyke from the side for the Wimbledon game before Lynden Gooch tested positive for COVID-19, and that makes it likely that Sunderland’s number nine will be dropped just seven days after his hat trick.
In Wyke’s place, a surprise name could be in store for a start up-front after returning from injury. Lee Johnson mentioned a few weeks ago that Luke O’Nien was one of the most natural finishers at the football club, and that he was open to experimenting with the former Wycombe player’s position. This, added to O’Nien’s inability to play at full-back for the time being means now is as good a time as any to try him as a second striker against the team he scored his first Sunderland goal against.
Aiden O’Brien has been a completely different player since operating in Lee Johnson’s 4-4-2 formation, and after taking his goal well against Plymouth, he is certain to start.