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 (2 wins, 2 draws and 1 defeat) his team selection is beginning to show a few common themes.
The spine of the team has hardly changed since the former Bristol City manager’s first game, and the side has settled firmly on a 4-3-3 formation. For these reasons, I can see a similar team for tonight’s match once again whilst Johnson waits for a few signings to go into his preferred starting eleven.
One of those players who has cemented his place after it was under question by Phil Parkinson. An impressive performance against Lincoln City showed that despite being a League One level goalkeeper, Lee Burge still has the quality to help a team pushing for promotion.
It is easy to forget that Burge was the last goalkeeper in the EFL to concede a goal this season, and the two clean sheets in Johnson’s five games so far show that Sunderland’s defence is back to something resembling its best.
RB: Sanderson CB: Wright CB: Flanagan LB: McFadzean
Despite the return of Jordan Willis over the covid-break, Tom Flanagan was chosen to partner Bailey Wright at the heart of the Sunderland defence against Northampton, and after a clean sheet in that game that partnership is likely to be unchanged.
At full-back, Dion Sanderson put in a positive performance despite playing on the wrong side, and if Callum McFadzean can return after not making the squad in the last match I would back the Cardiff loanee to beat Conor McLaughlin to a starting spot at right-back.
DM: Leadbitter CM: Power CM: Scowen
With a new centre midfielder on Lee Johnson’s January shopping list, this could be the last game we see what has become quite a stale midfield in the first half of this season.
Elliot Embleton is the only more attacking option to play in this position, and since he didn’t even come off the bench last weekend it’s unlikely he will start this evening.
Grant Leadbitter and one of Power and Scowen will probably start most games between now and the end of the season, but if Sunderland are to threaten deep defences like the one faced at Northampton last weekend, this is an area which must provide a greater attacking threat.
RW: Gooch ST: Wyke LW: Maguire
Sunderland's attack was impotent last weekend, so if changes are to come tonight it's likely to be in forward areas.
Aiden McGeady has played more football than most would have predicted considering his long time in the side lines, and this extra game could be a change for Chris Maguire to show he's got the fire in his belly to win his place back in Sunderland's starting eleven after a poor start to the season.
On the opposite side, after bursting into the starting eleven down at Lincoln, Jack Diamond has plateaued a bit and the return of Lynden Gooch from injury could be a good chance form him go drop to the bench and look to make an impact up against tired legs in the last quarter of the match.