After a win on penalties in the cup during midweek, Lee Johnson will be hoping his side can bounce back from defeat against Charlton in their last league game.
A few key players, such as Leon Dajaku, Lynden Gooch and Corey Evans returned to the side during midweek and should be in contention to start again this afternoon, and the extra options in attack should at least ensure Sunderland avoid going three games without a goal this week.
Denver Hume is unfortunate to be ruled out if this weekend as the club await the results of a scan on his ankle injury suffered at QPR on Tuesday, and he will join Nathan Broadhead - who could be ready for next weekend - and the longer-term absentees Willis and Xhemajli out of the matchday squad.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
Despite an impressive performance from Lee Burge in the cup during midweek, Thorben Hoffmann remains our first choice stopper and this is a fact that will not be changed from a solitary match-winning display from our number two.
That being said, Burge's cup performances have probably cemented him as the best number 2 in the league, and we should be confident that the overall performances of the side would not drop off too much if Hoffmann was to face an enforced absence later in the season.
RB: Winchester CB: Flanagan CB: Doyle LB: Cirkin
If Sunderland’s win against QPR showcased our depth in the centre of defence, it also highlighted how stretched we are in the fullback positions as both Carl Winchester and Dennis Cirkin featured heavily in both the league game against Charlton and our cup win at Loftus Road.
I fully expect the two first-choice fullbacks to play once again, with Tom Flanagan and Callum Doyle both returning to replace Wright and Alves, despite the latter pair keeping a clean sheet against higher-league opposition in midweek.
RM: Gooch CM: Neil CM: Evans LM: Embleton
Lee Johnson changed his shape in midfield for the first time this campaign by playing Corey Evans alongside Neil and O’Nien as he looked to beef up the midfield for the trip to Championship QPR in the League Cup.
However, as we return to league action I’m expecting to see the double pivot return, meaning that one of our midfield trio will need to drop out of the side for this afternoon’s match.
Luke O’Nien is probably the most likely player to do so, with his recent performances failing to inspire and Corey Evans’ return to fitness should mean that it’s a straight swap in centre midfield with Evans fulfilling O’Nien’s holding role alongside Dan Neil who signed his new contract this week.
In the wide areas, Sunderland fans should expect to see changes after our attack has been blunted in the last two outings. Lynden Gooch should return to league action to add some direct running as well as the combativeness that could be lacking in Luke O’Nien’s absence.
On the other wing, Elliot Embleton could replace Aiden McGeady as the man tasked with cutting in off the left-hand side. The academy graduate’s younger legs could aid Sunderland off the ball and give the importance of pressing to Lee Johnson’s game plan this could have a significant impact on our overall attacking output.
ST: Pritchard ST: Stewart
With Elliot Embleton returning from suspension, Alex Pritchard is likely to be the man to make way if Aiden McGeady is to continue out wide. However, the diminutive playmaker’s displays have been solid and given his potential to develop into a key player this season it’s probably worth trying to find a way of getting both Pritchard and Embleton in the same side as we look to reduce our reliance on McGeady for creativity.
If Pritchard’s position in the side is under threat, one man who is guaranteed to start is the big centre forward Ross Stewart. Nathan Broadhead is set to return next week to provide genuine competition for the big Scot’s place in the side, but the starting position remain’s Stewart’s place to lose and the nine goals he has netted so far this campaign show just how well the former Ross County man has replaced Charlie Wyke.