After the high of a five-nil thrashing of Cheltenham last Tuesday night, Sunderland came crashing back to earth with a humbling four-goal defeat down at Portsmouth. With little under two weeks between tonight’s game and their next league match, a win is a must to get Lee Johnson’s side back on track and ready to go again after the international break.
Jordan Willis, Arbenit Xhemajli, Nathan Broadhead and Niall Huggins will all miss out with injuries, but Denver Hume is in line to make a return to the side for the first time since signing his new contract. Youngsters Kenton Richardson, Ellis Taylor and Will Harris were all left out of last night’s under 23s game, so may grab a place on the bench tonight.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
With young German ‘keeper Hoffmann claiming the starting shirt, and Anthony Patterson departing on loan, Lee Burge has reassumed the role he had during his first season at the club where he was the designated cup goalkeeper.
Burge put a couple of strong performance in during the cup campaign that season, performances which were enough to force his way into the starting lineup for a couple of league games, and the former Coventry stopper will be looking to do the same again this season, especially with an inexperienced player currently possessing the starting gloves.
RB: Younger CB: Alves CB: Wright LB: Hume
My method for trying to predict Sunderland’s starting lineup for tonight’s game is to pick the players most in need of starting minutes. That means that Bailey Wright could keep his place despite playing on Saturday and having a bit of a shocker. The former Bristol City defender seems to be Lee Johnson’s preferred choice behind the starting two of Flanagan and Doyle, and this means that Wright needs to find a way of coming out of the other side of his recent poor form.
Unlike Bailey Wright, Carl Winchester has played a lot of good quality football so far this campaign and the absence of obvious replacement Niall Huggins means that Ollie Younger could step into the right back position for tonight’s match.
Frederick Alves and Denver Hume are both almost certain to start, with the pair in need of game time and keen to put the pressure on the current starting players in their positions.
CM: Neil CM: O’Nien
With the centre of midfield Sunderland’s least well-stocked, something which is made worse by fourth-choice Carl Winchester’s continued use at right-back, there’s only a limited number of ways in which Lee Johnson can shuffle his pack for the cup games.
Dan Neil is sure to start after missing out in the last couple of league games, but it’s a bit of a toss-up between O’Nien and Evans as to who will partner him tonight. Corry Evans’ injury record probably gives O’Nien a slight edge, but I wouldn’t expect the former Wycombe midfielder to play the full ninety minutes.
RM: Gooch AM: Pritchard LM: Dajaku
If the centre of midfield is Sunderland’s least reliable area of the pitch, attacking midfield is probably the position in which our squad is deepest as shown by the quality of even a second-string selection.
Injuries to Nathan Broadhead and Aiden McGeady probably mean that at least two of the forward players that started on Saturday will also play tonight, but Lynden Gooch is likely to make his return after injury even if he, like Denver Hume, is unlikely to last the full ninety.
Alex Pritchard and Leon Dajaku are both in need of the game time in order to get up to speed and adapt to playing at Sunderland and although both have shown moments of promise, they’re yet to set the world alight since arriving during the most recent transfer window. Hopefully, that will change today.
With Nathan Broadhead injured and Ross Stewart likely to be rested Aiden O’Brien is another player who started at the weekend who is likely to retain his spot in the side.
With ninety minutes on a heavy pitch just a couple of days ago, O’Brien is likely to make way at some point in the game for youngster Will Harris to make his senior debut after the young centre forward’s good recent performances for the under 23s.