While Saturday’s result was somewhat disappointing, the performance in the second half was promising and hinted at better things to come. Having shifted from a back three to a back four at the interval, it’s likely Lee Johnson will revert to a system that’s been his preference so far during his time at the Stadium of Light.
Goalkeeper: Thorben Hoffmann
Hoffmann could do little to prevent Oxford’s goal on Saturday, and will keep his place in the team for tonight’s game.
Defence: Lynden Gooch, Bailey Wright, Tom Flanagan, Callum Doyle
Johnson’s defensive selection – both in personnel and formation – is going to be important tonight, as it dictates how the rest of the team will line up. We know he strongly prefers a back four – he quickly reverted to it on Saturday – and I think we’ll start that way tonight.
While Gooch’s error led directly to Oxford’s goal, I still think he’s shown enough to play there for now – and in reality we either play him there or stick a centre back over there, given Winchester is needed in midfield. The benefit Gooch can give us going forward will likely see him deployed there.
To get a bit of natural balance, I’d push Doyle over to left back – he’s left footed, and is happy to go forward.
Midfield: Carl Winchester, Dan Neil
By virtue of the fact they’re our only two fit central midfielders, it seems an obvious selection to partner Winchester with Dan Neil – they both need to impose themselves more on the game than they have done recently, but they’ve both got significant quality and the ability to do so.
Attacking midfield: Elliot Embleton, Alex Pritchard, Nathan Broadhead
With a formation change opening up another place in the final third, Elliot Embleton could be recalled to the starting XI after showing up well in the second half against Oxford.
We’re starting to see something from Alex Pritchard now, too, which is long overdue, while Nathan Broadhead will likely retain his place on Saturday.
While Broadhead will be 24 in April, he’s very inexperienced at first team level, and it shows in his play. He shows glimpses of immense talent, and we’ll hopefully see him develop a bit of consistency over the coming months – he tends to hang onto the ball a bit too long in certain situations, and regular football should help him improve that side of his game.
Striker: Ross Stewart
Stewart’s been comparatively quiet in recent weeks, and is surely due a goal – he’s such a good player who benefits from having the more attack-minded players close to him.
He’s surely a guaranteed starter.