Two one-nil wins in a week have put Sunderland right back in the hunt for promotion after Lee Johnson’s tenure at the club got off to a steady start. Charlie Wyke was once again the match winner against Ipswich Town, and his partnership with Aiden O’Brien up front seems to be getting the best out of both players.
Johnson switched to a 4-3-3 for the away game against a team who were, on paper at least, a promotion rival - although the switch to 4-4-2 for the second half probably indicated one of the midfielders will be dropped for another attacker as Sunderland return to the Stadium of Light.
On the injury front, Bailey Wright is likely to miss out following a mild concussion suffered during the second half at Portman Road, although other news is mainly positive. Lynden Gooch and Luke O’Nien are both back, as is Danny Graham. Will Grigg, Denver Hume, Tom Flanagan and Arbenit Xhemajli will all miss out.
Here’s how I think The Lads will line up.
Two clean sheets in seven days have firmly cemented Lee Burge’s position at the top of the race for the League One’s golden glove.
The former Coventry stopper was hardly tested in either game, but the defence looks so solid that the unseen work of communication and organisation are things which we cannot overestimate, and something which every goalkeeper is involved in.
Sunderland’s number one will continue to start in the league, injury permitting.
RB: Power CB: Willis CB: Sanderson LB: Vokins
After two successive clean sheets, Lee Johnson will likely be reluctant to change his back four for today’s game, however one change is likely to be enforced due to the concussion protocols surrounding Bailey Wright.
This, along with Tom Flanagan’s absence, means Dion Sanderson will start at the heart of the defence and leaves Max Power as the only option for right-back - especially if Luke O’Nien is still unable to take throw-ins.
On the left, I have called for McFadzean to be dropped quite a few times recently, and the signing of Jake Vokins on loan yesterday gives Lee Johnson the chance to upgrade in Sunderland’s weakest position. This may be harsh on McFadzean who put in a solid performance on Tuesday night, but he has shown since Denver Hume’s injury that he is simply not good enough to start regularly for a team looking to get promoted.
RM: Embleton CM: Leadbitter CM: Scowen LM: McGeady
If Lee Johnson is to switch back to 4-4-2, one of Winchester, Scowen or Leadbitter are sure to drop to the bench. Since Josh Scowen has been ever-present since his former manager at Barnsley arrived, his position in the team is as safe as anyones.
That makes it a choice between Carl Winchester and Grant Leadbitter for the place alongside the former QPR midfielder, and I’m opting for Leadbitter for this afternoon’s game. Playing in a midfield three and against ten men on Tuesday takes less out of the legs than playing in an attacking 4-4-2, whilst the longer rest makes it likely that if Leadbitter does miss out then it will be in the following midweek against MK Dons in the Papa Johns Trophy.
In the attacking midfield positions, Elliot Embleton made a positive impact when coming off the bench on Tuesday night and I maintain the position that the half-winger-half-number-ten role which Lee Johnson’s wide players operate in suits Embleton perfectly. Aiden McGeady will play when fit, with Lee Johnson banking on his X-Factor to make up for times when Sunderland struggle to execute the manager’s tactical plans during these first few months of his reign.
ST: O’Brien ST: Wyke
As I mentioned in the introduction, Aiden O’Brien and Charlie Wyke seem to be getting the best out of each other at the moment, with Wyke’s red-hot form in front of goal and O’Brien’s work rate proving a successful duo as Sunderland look to build some momentum in the hunt for promotion.
Lynden Gooch’s return from covid-19 means that the manager does have options if these two start underperforming, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.