Sunderland’s form continues to be inconsistent, with last Saturday’s disappointing draw in the league followed up with an impressive three-nil victory over today’s opponents MK Dons in the Papa John’s trophy showing how unpredictable we can be.
Thankfully, Sunderland remain on the road for this weekend’s return to league action, and it’s away from home where Lee Johnson’s side have looked the most like a side in the promotion hunt.
With the end of the transfer window coming since the last league game, Sunderland have Jordan Jones to call upon for this first time in League One, however, new striker Ross Stewart isn’t being rushed back from an injury he suffered whilst at former club Ross County. Bailey Wright is available once again following concussion, and Sanderson, Winchester and Vokin are all back after being cup-tied for Tuesday’s game.
Here's who I think will be named in Lee Johnson’s starting line up at 2 o’clock this afternoon.
After being given a complete rest during midweek - Antony Patterson was named on the bench whilst Remi Matthews started in goal - Lee Burge will return as Sunderland get back into league action at Stadium MK.
Burge received a bit of criticism after conceding twice last weekend, and even though he wasn’t directly to blame for either goal he’ll be keen to move on by recording Sunderland’s second clean sheet against Russell Martin’s side this week.
RB: Power CB: Willis CB: Wright LB: Vokins
Lee Johnson was limited with how much he could rotate his defensive players during midweek, but I’m expecting a couple of changes to be made from the back four that started in both of Sunderland’s last two games.
Bailey Wright is expected to go straight back in the side following his concussion-induced absence, and Tom Flanagan has done little to persuade Lee Johnson that the Australian’s return should be delayed.
At left-back, Jake Vokins was deemed not ready to make his debut so soon after signing when he was named on the bench for last weekend’s game against Gillingham, and it's likely he would have started regardless of the injury suffered by Callum McFadzean in midweek.
Max Power has cemented himself as Sunderland’s first-choice right-back, although Luke O’Nien’s return means he now has some competition for that place, and with Dion Sanderson also an option at full-back, Sunderland are pretty well stocked in this position.
RM: Diamond CM: O’Nien CM: Winchester LM: McGeady
Lee Johnson switched things up in midfield during midweek, and a number of different players put their hat in the ring for a start as Sunderland resume league action. Luke O’Nien performed well in all three positions he played on Tuesday, and Dan Neil showed why the Sunderland management were happy to keep him around the squad instead of losing him for the next six months.
What Tuesday’s performance did show was that Sunderland need some more legs in the centre of the pitch in order to make the prefered 4-2-2-2 formation work, and to avoid being overrun in midfield. For this reason, I can see Carl Winchester being preferred to Grant Leadbitter in the holding role occupied by Josh Scowen on Tuesday night and alongside him, Luke O’Nien’s good performance should be rewarded with a start in what Johnson seemingly sees as his best position - at least for the time being.
In the wide areas, Aiden McGeady picks himself and did himself no harm by getting a goal after coming off the bench on Tuesday night. Jack Diamond’s place on the other wing is under threat with the arrival of Jordan Jones on loan until the end of the season, but his limited game time for Rangers means two starts on a heavy pitch in five days is unlikely, with a half an hour cameo more likely for the former Middlesbrough youth player.
ST: O'Brien ST: Wyke
Up front, Aiden O’Brien was given a slightly different role as he started alongside Lynden Gooch on Tuesday night, and he is likely to continue as he seemingly gets the best out of number nine Charlie Wyke. New signing Ross Stewart has been described as similar in style to the former Millwall attacker, meaning it’s likely to be a fortnight-or-so before O’Brien’s place comes under significant pressure.
Charlie Wyke, like McGeady, is one of the first names on the team sheet and also managed to score in a short cameo on Tuesday night. His all-round game has been a welcome addition to his goals in the last couple of games and hopefully, his run of form can continue.