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Starting XI: Is this the Sunderland side that will take on Gillingham this afternoon?

Sunderland are in need of a win to bounce back from their pre-international break defeat at Portsmouth. We have a go at guessing what the starting XI will be – what do you reckon?

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Even though we’ve seen two victories for Lee Johnson’s side since our last league game, that game was a demoralising four-nil defeat down on the swamp in Portsmouth so we need to see an improvement to get back to winning ways today.

Just as the injury room was starting to look more empty, a couple more absences have appeared with Niall Huggins, Nathan Broadhead, Lynden Gooch, Arbenit Xhemajli and Jordan Willis all likely to miss out, with Leon Dajaku also a slight doubt.

Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.

GK: Hoffmann

With Lee Burge playing the last couple of cup games, I fully expect Thorben Hoffmann to come back into the starting eleven for this afternoon’s trip down south. As far as can be the case for any goalkeeper who concedes four goals in a game, Hoffmann can’t be considered at fault for any of the four that went in at Fratton Park so he’ll be looking to provide a solid performance and another clean sheet for the men in Red and White this afternoon.

Sunderland v Cheltenham Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RB: Winchester CB: Flanagan CB: Doyle LB: Cirkin

Despite conceding four goals in the last league game, I’m not expecting massive changes at the back for this afternoon’s trip to Steve Evans’ Gillingham. Carl Winchester’s prospects of getting game time in midfield have been further postponed by Niall Huggins’ bak injury that will rule him out for 3 months.

The only change I can see Lee Johnson making is to bring Callum Doyle back into the side in place of Bailey Wright. Not only did Wright struggle down at Fratton Park, but the left-footedness of the youngster Doyle also helps when building play from the back.

Tom Flanagan has been Mr reliable this season, whilst Dennis Cirkin has plenty of credit in the bank to continue to keep Denver Hume out of the side, even if the youth product should be able to make the bench.

Sunderland v Accrington Stanley - Sky Bet League One Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

CM: Neil CM: O’Nien

As I’ve already mentioned, Carl Winchester will continue to be used as a full back meaning that it’s the three of Neil, O’Nien and Evans vying for a start in the engine room.

Luke O’Nien has been a constant in midfield when fit, mainly due to his ability to play as either the box-to-box number eight, or as the more defensive number six player in Lee Johnson’s double pivot.

The decision to leave Dan Neil out against Portsmouth can be seen as a mistake on Lee Johnson’s part, so I’m expecting the breakout star of the season to be give another league start after two games coming off the bench.

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League 1 Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RM: O’Brien AM: Embleton LM: McGeady

Sunderland’s options going forward have been hampered by injury doubts, with Lynden Gooch, Leon Dajaku and Nathan Broadhead all at risk of missing out.

That leaves only Aiden McGeady as a natural wide option and with Elliot Embleton the preferred number ten it’s likely we’ll see Aiden O’Brien lining up on the right-side offering some willing running even if the former Millwall man is behind some of his teammates in terms of skill level.

Portsmouth v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

ST: Stewart

Just as is the case every week, Ross Stewart is sure to start up front as the big Scottish striker both leads the line and offers a genuine goal threat.

Lack of other options means that Stewart is the only real option for today’s game, but even in the future the number nine is likely to be joined by rather than replaced by our other striking options.

Sunderland v Cheltenham Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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