Sunderland’s home form showed some green shoots of recovery with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Shrewsbury Town at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon.
A good performance in the first half was followed by a second-half in which the visitors were by far the better side and probably deserved something from the game. However, a win was the most important thing, and Lee Johnson’s side just about got that as they get back on the road to face Paul Lambert’s Ipswich Town.
On the injury front, things continue to improve with Jordan Willis getting 90 minutes despite carrying a knock, and Luke O’Nien making his reappearance against Shrewsbury from the bench.
Danny Graham was also back on the bench for Saturday’s match, while Lynden Gooch’s return from self-isolation means he is likely to be in the squad this evening.
Unfortunately, Will Grigg, Denver Hume, Tom Flanagan and Arbenit Xhemajli are all still out.
Here’s how I think The Lads will line up.
Despite being put under quite a lot of pressure during the second half on Saturday, Lee Burge didn’t have much to do thanks to good performances from both Jordan Willis and Bailey Wright in front of him.
However, the former Coventry ‘keeper made a smart save at the end of the first half to win the three points and claim his ninth clean sheet of the campaign.
RB: Power CB: Willis CB: Wright LB: Sanderson
Lee Johnson did make a change to the back four that concede two goals against Plymouth last midweek, but somehow Callum McFadzean – the obvious weak link in the Sunderland back four – managed to retain his place, with Max Power coming in for Dion Sanderson instead of the former Argyle wing-back.
Neither of the two full-backs covered themselves in glory during Saturday’s second half, with most of the visitors’ chances coming from the space in behind both Power and particularly McFadzean before Wright or Willis were – more often than not – in a position to clean up after their sloppy fellow defenders.
Despite Power’s weak performance, I think today is the day we finally see McFadzean punished for a string of poor games in which he has offered very little going forward and has been ‘got-at’ time and time again by the opposition’s right-winger. Dion Sanderson performed admirably at left-back a few weeks ago, and his inclusion would help to block some of the holes in Sunderland's backline before they’re capitalised on by our opponents.
RM: Embleton CM: Leadbitter CM: Scowen LM: McGeady
Josh Scowen put in one of his best displays in a Sunderland shirt during the opening 45 minutes of Saturday’s victory, and a good performance was much needed – especially since Dobson’s departure and Power’s shift to right-back mean alternatives to the former QPR midfielder are limited.
Alongside him, Grant Leadbitter also dominated in the first half, and while some have questioned his ability to move the ball quickly enough in a two-man midfield, I was impressed with the number of forward passes he managed to play into the front four.
Out wide, Jack Diamond’s form has dipped slightly in recent matches and, as a young player coming into the side, he could benefit from a few games acting as an impact sub instead of going at defenders from the first whistle. Elliot Embleton is a natural replacement to allow the former Harrogate loanee to drop to the bench.
On the left, Aiden McGeady was back to his best at the weekend and constantly had the better of his opposite full-back. The assist for Charlie Wyke means he will continue to be one of the first names on the team sheet when fit.
ST: O’Brien ST: Wyke
Both of Sunderland’s strikers have scored in the past seven days, and despite not making a great pairing Aiden O’Brien and Charlie Wyke are just doing enough to continue their partnership while alternatives regain full fitness.
Lynden Gooch will probably come into the side for one of these two on Saturday, but today marks his first day out of Covid-induced isolation meaning a spot on the bench is more likely this evening. Danny Graham and Will Grigg are no competition, and all parties will be hoping that deals can be made between now and the end of January for their departures.