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Starting XI: Is this the Sunderland side that will take on Crewe this afternoon?

Who do you reckon will make Lee Johnson’s starting eleven for this afty’s game as Sunderland travel south to take on Crewe Alexandra?

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

After starting the month with a couple of disappointing results against MK Dons and Shrewsbury, Sunderland are looking to go into March off the back of four consecutive victories by beating this afternoon’s opponents Crewe Alexandra.

Sunderland continue to struggle with injuries at the back, with Josh Scowen the only returning player after he missed out during midweek with a minor hamstring injury.

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

GK: Burge

Lee Burge has saved more penalties than he has conceded goals since returning to the side after Lee Johnson’s brief flirt with Remi Matthews, and I still believe he gets more criticism than is fair.

Like all League One goalkeepers, Burge has his faults - he isn’t particularly commanding, and he has a tendency to save shots back into the danger - but there’s not many better in the third tier.

I think Jon McLaughlin’s first season gave Sunderland fans an unrealistic expectation of what a good League One goalkeeper looks like when his more mediocre second year is more realistic.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

CB: McLaughlin CB: Sanderson CB: O’Nien

Another game, another clean sheet and another game where Dion Sanderson makes Sunderland look ridiculous for not playing him regularly during the first half of the season.

The 21-year-old has led the Sunderland defence like a significantly more experienced player, and Jordan Willis has barely been missed since the Wolves loanee took his place.

Alongside him, O’Nien and McLaughlin are both guarantee to start, whether it be as part of a back three of a back four, and you really can’t fault either of them for their part in keeping back-to-back clean sheets.

Sunderland’s defence is put under more pressure with Lee Johnson’s style of play, but with the exception of individual moments of quality from the opposition, they don’t look like conceding many goals at all.

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

RM: Gooch CM: Power CM: Leadbitter LM: McFadzean

With three games coming up in the next seven days, there's a possibility that Lee Johnson will make some changes to the midfield that started the last game against Fleetwood Town.

However, I predict that he’ll keep things the same for one game longer, with Josh Scowen likely to be a substitute before returning from injury fully in one of our upcoming matches.

That means Max Power and Grant Leadbitter should continue their partnership in the middle of the park, although Carl Winchester will be in line for a start alongside the aforementioned Scowen sometime in the near future.

In the wide areas, Callum McFadzean came straight back into the side for Jake Vokins following his concussion-induced absence against Burton and this is probably an indication of the pecking order at left-back in the absence of Denver Hume.

On the right, Lynden Gooch may start at wing-back or as part of a front four but wherever he plays he is likely to be one of the furthest forward of Sunderland’s players. He has returned to a bit of form in recent games and linked up well with O’Brien on the right against Burton before making a positive impact after being shifted into a more central position midway through the game against Fleetwood.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

RW: O’Brien LW: McGeady ST: Wyke

Like in midfield, the shape of Sunderland’s attack depends on Lee Johnson’s choice of formation, but the personnel can be predicted with a little more certainty.

Charlie Wyke took the night off against Fleetwood as he allowed teammates Power and O’Brien to bag the two goals to win us the game, his overall play has started to match up to his goalscoring and he is undroppable at the moment - especially with Ross Stewart’s continued absence due to injury.

Aiden McGeady has no such night off as he went top of the League One assists table with his chipped cross which was headed home by Aiden O’Brien. McGeady continues to give League On full-backs nightmares, and his attacking threat helps to prevent the opposition from putting too much pressure on the weak left-side of Sunderland’s defence.

Finally, just as calls for Jordan Jones to replace Aiden O’Brien in the starting line up were beginning to build, the former Millwall attacker headed home the first goal of the game on Tuesday night. He certainly isn’t a flashy player, but his inclusion does make Sunderland’s attacking four very well balances. With O’Brien’s holdup play, McGeady’s creativity, Gooch’s direct running and Wyke’s finishing Sunderland’s attack, for now at least, has a bit of everything.

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

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