Sunderland once again took one step forward and two steps back as they followed up a comprehensive win against MK Dons in the cup with a disappointing two-all draw in the league.
Sunderland are back in league action once again during midweek, and with Saturday’s opponents Doncaster Rovers in red-hot form, three points against Shrewsbury tonight are vital to give us a boost before taking on our promotion rivals.
In the reverse fixture, Lee Johnson’s side ran out one-nil winners despite putting in one of their worst performances of the season in the second half, as the Black Cats’ defence struggled to cope with the wing-backs of Steve Cotterill’s team. Sunderland also struggled against MK Dons’ wing-backs on Saturday, and Lee Johnson could be tempted to change shape to better counter tonight’s opposition. However, I think any changes are likely to be more subtle than a switch to 4-3-3 or 3-5-2, and it's likely that Johnson will continue with his preferred 4-4-2 shape tonight.
Here’s how I think The Lads will line up.
Lee Burge's position in the side has been questioned by a few Sunderland fans after he has conceded four goals in his last two games, but there's little chance that this view is shared by Lee Johnson.
Despite this criticism, Burge is yet to make a glaring error leading to a goal, and that's not something that can be said of understudy Remi Matthews since the former Bolton 'keeper signed in the summer.
RB: Power CB: Willis CB: Wright LB: Vokins
At the back, Tom Flanagan's late omission for Jordan Willis meant Sunderland started with their strongest back four - at least whilst Denver Hume remains injured - and despite conceding twice at Stadium MK it's unlikely that Lee Johnson will make any knee-jerk decisions in his team selection at the back.
Max Power has, weirdly enough, developed into one of the most important players when Sunderland are in possession of the ball, and his transition to right-back has certainly done his chances of securing a new contract no harm.
At the heart of the defence, Jordan Willis and Bailey Wright were exposed rather than poor on Saturday afternoon, and they will continue tonight in pursuit of a clean sheet and a Sunderland victory.
Although Jake Vokins is the defender most at risk of losing his place in the side after what can only be described as a poor debut, injuries to both Callum McFadzean and Denver Hume - along with the reluctance of Johnson to play Sanderson out of position at left-back - make his place pretty secure for the next couple of weeks at least.
RM: McGeady CM: O’Nien CM: Scowen LM: Jones
One area of the field in which changes surely must come is midfield, where Sunderland struggled to cope with the numerical advantage of MK Dons and were overrun as a result.
Grant Leadbitter has shown ever since re-signing for the club that he struggles to cope in a two-man midfield, and the contrast between Sunderland on Tuesday, without the veteran midfielder, and Saturday was stark.
For that reason, I’m backing Josh Scowen to reassume the defensive midfield role he occupied last midweek against MK Dons with Luke O’Nien’s contribution in front of goal enough for him to retain his place in the middle of the park for one more game at least.
In the wide areas, Aiden McGeady assisted both goals at the weekend and has constantly provided a creative spark when cutting in from the flank ever since his return to the side.
On the other side, Jordan Jones made a positive impact both as an individual and on Sunderland’s play after his introduction on Saturday and this positive performance should be rewarded with a start - especially considering both Lynden Gooch and Aiden O’Brien were anonymous for much of their time on the pitch.
ST: Gooch ST: Wyke
Charlie Wyke scored his thirteenth league goal of the season on Saturday and his good form continues to make him a sure thing to start up top for Lee Johnson’s side, especially with Ross Stewart about a week away from match sharpness.
Alongside him, however, Sunderland have a minor headache. Aiden O’Brien gets into some good positions but lacks the quality to make his possession count so the Sunderland manager has a ‘stick or twist’ decision to make.
The ‘twist’ option would be to adjust the position of Lynden Gooch - who himself failed to impress against MK Dons - and play him as a second striker behind Charlie Wyke. This is the option I would take as a fairly low-risk gamble with Ross Stewart available in a couple of games time to give this position a more long-term solution.