After making just one change for Saturday’s game against Crewe Alexandra, and being forced to make five substitutes to turn the game around, I’m expecting Lee Johnson to engage in a minor shake up of his side for tonight’s game.
None of the players currently on Sunderland’s treatment table are expected to return in time for tonight’s match - Tom Flanagan is probably the closest to a return, but we may have to wait until the weekend to give Sunderland a pair of natural centre backs.
After a poor performance in their last game, Sunderland need to show that they are still one of the in-form sides in League One by getting straight back to winning ways against Swindon Town tonight.
Here’s how I think The Lads will line up.
There’s virtually nothing Lee Burge could have done about either of Crewe’s goals on Saturday, with both finishes coming from around the edge of the six yard box.
I mentioned before the last game that Burge is an above-average goalkeeper at League One level, and I still think there’s very little between him and the other stoppers at the top end of the division.
He’s the number one, and he will start tonight.
RB: Power CB: Sanderson CB: O’Nien LB: McLaughlin
After Sunderland’s abhorrent performance during the first half at The Alexandra Stadium, it’s almost guaranteed that Lee Johnson will make adjustments to his defence ahead of tonight’s game.
Somewhat ironically, three of Saturday’s back four are guaranteed to start both due to a lack of other options, and due to the cash in the bank they had accumulated prior to the horror show at Crewe.
Dion Sanderson sits in both camps, being the only fit centre half until either Tom Flanagan or Bailey Wright return, and he has shown in previous games that he is a more than competent central defender at this level.
Luke O’Nien and Conor McLaughlin were both, along with Sanderson, part of a back three that kept two clean sheets before the Crewe game - and with neither directly at fault for either of the two goals, they are both likely to be seen by Johnson as worthy of another start in defence; especially considering the lack of other options.
On the other hand, Callum McFadzean must - and it seems like I say this in every one of these articles - be in line to drop out of the side. He failed to get goal-side of his man for the first goal, and the second came from down the left-side of Sunderland’s defence. The man is a total defensive liability and Aiden McGeady must be wondering how he has gone from Champions League football to playing in front of this muppet.
Now, the obvious change may be for Jake Vokins to come in but, like McFadzean, he has also been directly at fault for a number of goals conceded and it seems fairly pointless to replace one player who has been repeatedly hauled off in search of defensive solidity with another player who has been repeatedly hauled off in search of defensive solidity.
Instead, Lee Johnson must be tempted to start with the back four which ended the game against Crewe. That means Conor McLaughlin moving over to left back and, with numerous options in the centre of midfield, Max Power dropping back to right back. With one of Vokins or McFadzean on the bench if we need a left-footed attacking option from full back, it seems logical to go back to basics and fill in the weak points in Sunderland’s back line.
CM: Maguire CM: Scowen CM: Winchester
With Max Power potentially moving back to full back, and Grant Leadbitter’s shoulder injury, Josh Scowen and Carl Winchester seem to be in line for a start at the heart of midfield.
Winchester has shown an ability to beat neat and tidy during his substitute appearances so far, and the injury to Leadbitter gives the former Forest Green midfielder a chance to make his mark at his new club.
Despite using a two-man midfield for most of his games in charge at the Stadium of Light, tonight’s opponents can be expected to line up in a 3-5-2 formation meaning that Sunderland are likely to match up with three midfielders of their own - especially since the use of a back four means a two-on-two scenario at the back.
With this in mind, and following a good substitute performance and goal on Saturday, Chris Maguire could be in with a chance of starting tonight’s game in the middle of the park. With Scowen offering a defensive shield and Winchester keeping things ticking over on the ball, including Chris Maguire in a midfield three seems like a good way of allowing an inconsistent player to take risks without harming the overall team shape or game plan.
RW: Jones LW: McGeady ST: Wyke
Whilst Charlie Wyke remains a guaranteed starter until Ross Stewart reaches match fitness - and considering he is yet to make a match day squad, that seems to be some time away - his partner in Sunderland’s attack Aiden McGeady has seen a dip in his performance recently, and could find his place under threat if he failed to arrest this slight decline.
That being said, Lee Johnson stuck with the Republic of Ireland international through a similar run of uninspiring performances, and he showed with his assist for O’Brien’s goal against Fleetwood that even when having a quiet game he can produce a bit of quality to grab Sunderland an important goal.
For this reason, it seems likely that it will be the other Aiden, Aiden O’Brien, who will make way for Jordan Jones to start after yet another impressive performance off the bench - this time netting his first goal for the club which started the comeback.
Jones has been eased into things by Lee Johnson since arriving with little recent first team football, but he’s been at the club for a month now and it would be much deserved if the Rangers loanee is to be given a start on the back of such an important goal.
He’s more similar to Lynden Gooch than Aiden O’Brien in style, and with Maguire someone who is also likely to start tonight it seems as though some pace and directness will be needed in Sunderland’s forward line, and Jordan Jones provides both of those qualities in spades. If he can combine this with the end product he showed at the weekend, he could find himself remaining in the starting line up for some time.