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Starting XI: Is this the Sunderland side that will take on Lincoln City tonight?

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Who do you reckon will make the starting eleven as Sunderland look to make it to the Papa John’s Trophy final against Lincoln City tonight?

Milton Keynes Dons v Southampton U21 - EFL Trophy Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Sunderland’s form under Lee Johnson can be described as streaky, and he will be looking to improve on that record by following up Saturday’s demolition of Doncaster with another home win, this time in the cup against Lincoln City.

Sunderland are looking to go into the final of this competition for the second time in three seasons after Jack Ross’ side were beaten on penalties by Portsmouth back in 2019.

After a brilliant performance last time out, Lee Johnson is likely to continue with the 4-3-3 formation which worked well not only on Saturday but also the last time these two sides met in the Sunderland manager’s second game in charge.

As always in this competition, one change is enforced with Dion Sanderson cup-tied along with Carl Winchester and Jake Vokins who both would have been likely to start given their absence from recent league games.

Here’s how I think The Lads will line up.


GK: Matthews

After Lee Burge saved two penalties on his return to the side at the weekend following a couple of glaring errors by Matthews at MK Dons, the former Coventry man has firmly established himself as the first-choice goalkeeper for the foreseeable future.

That said, we return to cup action tonight and that means Matthews is likely to find himself starting once again as he looks to make up for his poor performance last time out.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images

RB: Power CB: McLaughlin CB: Wright LB: McFadzean

Sunderland are facing a minor injury crisis at centre back at the minute, with Dion Sanderson’s ineligibility and injuries to Flanagan, Willis, Xhemajli and Younger meaning that whoever partners Bailey Wright at the heart of defence will be playing out of position.

Lee Johnson mentioned Luke O’Nien and Conor McLaughlin as the two options to replace the cup-tied loanee, and since both options mean disrupting the midfield it is likely that McLaughlin will shuffle across from right-back and Max Power will vacate his holding midfield position to take the Northern Ireland international’s place on the right-hand side.

On the left, Jake Vokins’ ineligibility means Callum McFadzean will get the chance to continue despite giving away one of the Doncaster penalties on Saturday.

Sunderland v Hull City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

DM: Leadbitter CM: O’Nien CM: Scowen

Max Power’s potential shift to right-back means Grant Leadbitter has the chance to return to the base of the midfield. Leadbitter has struggled somewhat when operating in a two-man midfield, but Johnson’s switch to 4-3-3 on Saturday may give the club captain a chance to show the form which made him one of Sunderland’s best players in the first half of the season.

Alongside him, Dan Neil could start, but the Sunderland manager’s admission that he would like to give young players a chance this evening, rather than a statement indicating he will be, means the teenagers will likely have to settle for a place on the bench.

This means that Scowen and O’Nien should continue off the back of solid performances on Saturday. With Leadbitter coming back into the side, the energy provided by this duo will be key to Sunderland’s game plan against a strong Lincoln side.

Sunderland Training Session Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

RW: Jones ST: O’Brien LW: Diamond

Up top, Lee Johnson said himself that he has an embarrassment of riches in attacking areas and that makes changes likely as he looks to keep his more creative start both match sharp and happy going into the latter stages of the season.

The move away from 4-4-2 has harmed Aiden O’Brien’s chances of getting into the side just as Ross Stewart is about to return to fitness and challenge him for a place in the side regardless and there is a chance that the former Millwall centre forward will have gone from being a regular starter to third-choice forward in less than a fortnight.

However, it’s easy to forget that O’Brien scored in his last start for the club against Shrewsbury, and with Charlie Wyke firmly cemented as the side’s main goal threat, and promotion the number one goal, O’Brien could find another chance in the cup tonight if Wyke is rested on the back of his hat trick at the weekend.

Much like Wyke, Aiden McGeady was excellent on Saturday with four assists, but he is another who needs to be protected ahead of more important fixtures in the league especially since Sunderland are unlikely to play less than twice a week very often between now and the end of the season. Jack Diamond has found game time hard to come by after impressing in Johnson’s early games in charge, and he will be keen to show that he’s still knocking on the door of the first team with another good performance against Lincoln following his goal at Sincil Bank back in December.

Jordan Jones has impressed with his pace and directness since joining at the end of the January window and can be considered unlucky to have been selected behind Lynden Gooch for Saturday’s win. He could start ahead of the American tonight in a bid to show why he deserves to be starting in the league.

Lincoln City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images