Just like the last time we featured in the final of the EFL Trophy, Sunderland travelled to the Wham Stadium and picked up another three points to get firmly back on the promotion push. Hopefully this time, that promotion charge will continue to the end of the season and we won’t fall up short for the third season in a row.
Lee Johnson made a number of changes to his cup-winning side as a mixture of heavy knocks and fatigue meant the likes of Leadbitter and McFadzean were given a rest in Sunderland’s two-nil win at Accrington on Wednesday.
Ross Stewart made a good impression by grabbing the opening goal after coming on as a half time substitute, and he will be in line for a start this afternoon as he looked to form a partnership with fellow goalscorer Charlie Wyke.
Here’s how I think the lads will line up.
Lee Burge has hardly looked back since he returned after a one-game stint out of the side back in January and he continued his development into a very safe pair of hands with another clean sheet on Wednesday night.
The Sunderland number one is out of contract in the summer, and he’s doing his chances of earning a renewal - even if it’s to act as back up to a new ‘keeper - no harm.
RB: Power CB: Sanderson CB: O’Nien LB: Vokins
Somewhat surprisingly given their good form playing with a four-man defence, Sunderland played three at the back during midweek as Lee Johnson learned from his mistake of fielding a back four the last time Sunderland came up against a team, Crewe Alexandra, who played two centre forwards.
With Lincoln expected to use one forward on Saturday, their preferred formation this season has been a 4-2-3-1, I’m expecting Sunderland to switch back to a four-man defence for this game and this means Max Power returning to right back in place of McLaughlin who played as one of the wide centre backs at the Wham Stadium.
McLaughlin can rightly feel hard done by to lose his place after a good performance in the two games since his return, but Power is the team’s captain and should be a certainty to play in what is a big game in Sunderland’s promotion race especially since he will have a week off for the first time since the beginning of January.
In the middle, Sanderson and O’Nien have formed such a good partnership at the heart of the defence that Bailey Wright’s absence has not been felt, and he can be allowed to ensure he is back to full fitness before returning to the side.
On the left, Jake Vokins took his chance in the absence of Callum McFadzean at Accrington, and he deserves his good performance to be rewarded with another start this afternoon.
CM: Winchester CM: Scowen
With Max Power potentially returning to full back, Josh Scowen should be in line to return to the centre of the pitch following his rest on Wednesday night. Scowen has formed a brilliant partnership with Carl Winchester at the heart of Sunderland’s midfield and Lee Johnson’s decision to identify two players he has worked with previously to build his side around has been vindicated.
Winchester has assumed the role of Grant Leadbitter brilliantly since the club captain’s shoulder injury, and his younger age gives him the legs required to playing in a midfield two within a high-pressing system.
RM: Gooch AM: Stewart LM: McGeady
Whilst Sunderland’s switch from a 3-4-3 to a 3-4-1-2 got the job done on Wednesday night, it did not get the best out of Aiden McGeady who has disappointed every time he has been fielded in a central position at Sunderland despite, in theory, seeming like exactly the kind of player who would thrive in a free role behind the strikers.
This is another reason why I think Sunderland will go back to the 4-2-3-1 shape which has been their default formation under Lee Johnson. This would allow McGeady to start in his preferred left-wing position, with Lynden Gooch moving forward from wing-back onto the right of the attacking midfield trio - a position change which is barely noticeable due to his advanced position when starting at wing-back.
That leaves the number ten position free for Ross Stewart to make his first start on the back of his goal in midweek. At six-foot-four he seems like the type of player who would play either upfront, at centre back or in goal, but he played on the wing for Ross County and seems to have been signed as an upgrade on Aiden O’Brien who has been the first choice in this role up to this point.
Charlie Wyke scored his 27th goal of the season on Wednesday night and I’m not sure what else needs to be said.
The big number nine looks like he could do with a rest, but with this afternoon’s game a big one and a week before our next match he’s a certainty to lead the line once against as Lee Johnson’s side look to cement their place in the top three.