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Starting XI: Is this the Sunderland side that will take on MK Dons for the first time this week?

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Who do you reckon will make the starting 11 as Sunderland look to progress in the Papa John’s Trophy? Here’s who our man Philip Butler thinks will start for The Lads against MK Dons.

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

Well, all our optimism going into Saturday's game was quickly quashed as Sunderland let the lead slip twice to emerge from another battle with Steve Evans without all three points.

Lee Johnson's side will be looking to bounce back this evening in a competition which, although less important than the league, is his side's best opportunity for silverware this season.

All of Sunderland's January signings are in line for a start in tonight's game, with the exception of Vokins who, along with Dion Sanderson, is cup-tied having appeared in the group stage of the competition for Premier League reserve sides.

Here's how I think we'll line up.


GK: Matthews

Remi Matthews has found this competition his most reliable source of first-team minutes this season as he continues to play understudy to Lee Burge in the league.

Antony Patterson, who has also made an appearance in this competition played for the under-23 against Leeds yesterday so it will be Matthews’ turn tonight to keep himself match sharp in case the clear number one, Burge, picks up an injury or suspension between now and the end of the season.

Sunderland v Port Vale - EFL Trophy
Remi Matthews has found cup games the major chance for competitive minutes this season
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RB: Power CB: Willis CB: Flanagan LB: McFadzean

With five defenders missing for tonight’s game, Lee Johnson is restricted as to how much he can rotate things at the back.

However, with both Bailey Wright and Jake Vokins available for this weekend’s league game Max Power is the only member of tonight’s back four who isn’t playing for his place in the side for the more important matches coming up.

Tom Flanagan would have to put in a phenomenal performance with defensive partner Jordan Willis having a stinker to disrupt the Wright-Willis axis before the weekend, but Callum McFadzean has a better chance of retaining his place despite his recent poor displays.

Jake Vokin’s recent first-team appearances for Southampton prove he’s come to Sunderland to play games, but if McFadzean can put in a good display tonight then he could delay the youngster’s debut for at least one game longer.

Northampton Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

RM: Maguire CM: O’Nien CM: Neil LM: Jones

Unlike in defence, Sunderland have a variety of different options to try in midfield should Lee Johnson look to rotate the squad as he has done in previous rounds of the competition.

Carl Winchester’s ineligibility means that Dan Neil is in line for a start with Grant Leadbitter’s legs rested for a rare midweek without league action. The young midfielder had offers to go out on loan during the January transfer window, and surely these were rejected in the thinking that he could make a reasonable number of appearances for the first team.

Alongside Neil, Luke O’Nien also appears to be considered a centre midfielder by Lee Johnson and with George Dobson allowed to leave the club and Max Power’s transition to right back it seems like this is how he will continue for the rest of the season, starting tonight.

On the wings, Jordan Jones’ arrival puts pressure on Jack Diamond and Aiden McGeady who had become Lee Johnson’s obvious first choice in the wide positionedtos. The Papa John's Trophy is the perfect competition to ease the new signing into the team.

On the opposite side, Chris Maguire has found game time hard to come by since Phil Parkinson's departure but after being linked with a move away over January it was Elliot Embleton who left the club, albeit only on loan for the rest of the season. Maguire is likely to be reintegrated into the side in the coming weeks, and his inclusion tonight will allow Diamond and McGeady to be rested before the more important game against MK Dons on Saturday.

Sunderland v Burton Albion - Sky Bet League One
Luke O’Nien hasn’t started a game since suffering this dislocated shoulder back in December
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Getty Images

ST: Gooch ST: Stewart

Just like in midfield, Sunderland have a striker who is returning from injury and a new signing who is looking to get up to speed with his new teammates as soon as possible.

Lynden Gooch has made a few appearances from off the bench since his enforced break due to COVID-19, and Aiden O'Brien has yet to really cement his place alongside Charlie Wyke in Lee Johnson's 4-4-2. This is the "nine and a half" position that Johnson has talked about regarding Gooch in recent press conferences, and with attacking reinforcements coming in other positions it's a straight shootout between Gooch and O'Brien for that role in the league.

Alongside Sunderland's Californian attacker, new 6ft 4in striker Ross Stewart will find game time in the league hard to come by due to Charlie Wyke's goalscoring form but his height and mobility make him a slightly different option to Sunderland's number nine.

03/08/19 LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP.ROSS COUNTY v HAMILTON ACADEMICAL.GLOBAL ENERGY STADIUM - DINGWALL.Ross County’s Ross Stewart (L) races past Hamilton defender Alex Gogic
Ross Stewart in action for former club Ross County
Photo by Ross Parker/SNS Group via Getty Images