Despite a good performance last midweek against championship QPR, Sunderland came crashing back down to earth by putting in our worse display of the campaign so far in Saturday’s five—one defeat at the New York Stadium.
The return of Leon Dajaku, Lynden Gooch, Corey Evans and Elliot Embleton to selection over the last week should have aided Sunderland’s cause, but instead, we can expect a few more changes for tonight’s game following such a poor showing.
Aiden McGeady was sent off for a silly second yellow with his side three-one down at Rotherham, so he will join Denver Hume, Nathan Broadhead, Arbenit Xhemajli, Niall Huggins and Jordan Willis in being unavailable for tonight’s match.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
Despite impressing overall since his arrival from Bayern Munich at the end of the January transfer window, Thorben Hoffmann has now conceded more than four goals in a game twice this season, and that is a stat that could affect the confidence of a young goalkeeper.
The German stopper cannot take much of the blame for the goals we conceded at Pompey, nor can he be blamed for our overall poor performance at the weekend, but he made a glaring error for the home side’s fifth and final goal of the afternoon.
He’ll probably start again tonight, but if he was in any other position on the field you’d probably take the youngster out of the limelight for a game or two. Hopefully, Lee Johnson won’t be wishing he had done that for his goalkeeper after tonight’s match.
CB: Flanagan CB: Wright CB: Doyle
I wrote in this weekend’s edition of Talking Tactics about how Sunderland have struggled against sides that use a 3-5-2 formation this season, so guess which shape tonight’s opponents use!
Lee Johnson does have a number of options at centre-half, if he decides the Luke O’Nien midfield experiment is over he can be added to natural centre defenders Bailey Wright and Frederick Alves as options to come into the side.
Tom Flanagan and Callum Doyle probably have enough credit in the bank to keep their places in the side despite Saturday’s result, and with both players suiting the wide-centre-back roles I think we’ll see Bailey Wright return to the middle of a back three - the position in which we’ve seen him play his best football in red and white.
RM: Gooch CM: Winchester CM: Neil LM: Cirkin
If Sunderland do switch to a three man defence for tonight's game, it will be interesting to see who makes up the midfield four or five.
Lynden Gooch and Dennis Cirkin are both guaranteed to start at wing back, with both players the first (and only) choices in those positions if we use a back five.
In the middle, Carl Winchester's energy from right back could be useful in a two-man midfield and his performances at fullback deserve to be rewarded with a stint in his natural position.
Although a combination of Winchester and Neil could be considered too attacking in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-2-2 system, with three centre backs to cover the pair do have the potential to offer both box to box running and an eye for a pass.
AM: Embleton AM: Pritchard ST: Stewart
Aiden McGeady's absence means that there'll be at least one change in attaching areas from the four forwards that started down at Rotherham.
With Lynden Gooch possibly playing at full back, the leaves Elliot Embleton, Alex Pritchard, Leon Dajaku and Aiden O'Brien to fill the remaining two places behind Ross Stewart.
Leon Dajaku's performances as a starter probably indicate he's best used off the bench, so that leaves Lee Johnson to either 'stick' and choose the reliable Aiden O'Brien or 'twist' and pick both Embleton and Pritchard.
I'd be tempted to go for the latter option, in the knowledge that the switch to a back three would hopefully solidify the side enough for the two number tens to play narrow and close to Ross Stewart.