After a narrow win against Bolton last weekend, Sunderland finally managed to kill a game off early on as a few changes to the starting lineup led to our most impressive performance under Lee Johnson’s management. The omissions of Pritchard and Embleton were surprising in midweek and whist the added dynamism of Broadhead will be missed due to the loanees injury, a similar type of player is likely to be used again this afternoon.
Jordan Willis, Arbenit Xhemajli and Denver Hume are all likely almost certainly out, although the latter two players are nearing a return with under 23 appearances likely over the next couple of weeks. Saturday’s additions to the treatment table, Callum Doyle and Dennis Cirkin, are both likely to miss out once again with Cirkin still bound by concussion regulations and the clean sheet in midweek allowing Doyle an extra few days to recover. Nathan Broadhead is another casualty to add to the list, after he hobbled off late in the game against Cheltenham
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
GK: Thorben Hoffmann
After a couple of shaky moments on debut, Thorben Hoffmann has looked every bit a Bayern Munich youngster by making good saves at key moments and showing confidence when playing out from the back.
After back-to-back clean sheets, our big German stopper will be hoping to notch another blank this afternoon.
RB: Winchester CB: Flanagan CB: Wright LB: Huggins
Despite half of the back four being changed following our clean sheet against Bolton, the defensive outcome remained the same as Huggins and Wright came into the side during midweek.
After a difficult afternoon when coming in for Tom Flanagan at Fleetwood, Bailey Wright was back to his best with a dominant performance, in which he headed home the opening goal, and he should keep his place alongside Flanagan as Callum Doyle is allowed a few more days to recover from his back injury.
The full-back positions pick themselves with Dennis Cirkin and Denver Hume both unavailable, but Winchester and Huggins would have been the favourites to start regardless after both were impressive on Tuesday night.
CM: Evans CM: O’Nien
Much like in the Sunderland defence, after putting in a dominant performance during midweek it seems reasonable to predict that Lee Johnson will keep the same midfield that delivered victory against Cheltenham.
Dan Neil can consider himself slightly hard done by to have dropped out of the side for the midweek game, but with such a long season ahead Sunderland must manage their young midfielder’s game time and in games like Tuesday’s against physical sides the combination of Evans and O’Nien is probably our best one.
RM: Dajaku AM: Embleton LM: McGeady
It may seem strange to suggest that after scoring five goals in the last game most of the changes are likely to come in the attacking part of the pitch, but with Nathan Broadhead out through injury it’s almost certain that we will see Lee Johnson return to the 4-2-3-1 formation which has been our default style this campaign.
Broadhead’s absence should open the door for Elliot Embleton to return after missing out against Cheltenham, and even though Broadhead is more of a natural centre forward, the academy graduate has played almost alongside Ross Stewart at times this campaign and is probably our most talented forward player.
As well as Broadhead, Aiden O’Brien is also in with a should of dropping out of the side after seeming to have been used as a specific physical presence to combat the strengths of Cheltenham. With Portsmouth likely to try and come at Sunderland - especially since they’re the home team - the pace and trickery of Leon Dajaku makes more sense for this afternoon.
Aiden McGeady is our talisman and will start when fit.
Just like Aiden McGeady, Ross Stewart is another man certain to start whenever fit. The injury to Nathan Broadhead only cements the big Scot’s position in the starting eleven, but even when everyone is available it’s Stewart who will be leading the line.