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

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Who do you reckon will make Lee Johnson’s starting eleven as Sunderland look to get the better of Joey Barton’s Bristol Rovers today?

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

After a much-needed week off, the first since the beginning of January, Sunderland get back into League One action today as they take on Joey Barton’s Bristol Rovers who themselves have it all to play for as they look to avoid relegation into League Two.

Despite seven days having passed since The Lads drew with Lincoln City at the Stadium of Light, Aiden O’Brien is the only player to have missed that game who could be in for a start this afternoon and his return is countered by the unavailability of Conor McLaughlin who is on international duty.

Jordan Jones is likely to find himself on the bench, whilst Denver Hume is in line for the under 23s game on Monday as he looks to return after missing almost the entirety of Lee Johnson’s time in charge. He, along with Bailey Wright and Tom Flanagan, seems to be a couple of weeks away whilst Jordan Willis and Arbenit Xhemajli are both long-term absentees.

No matter who the manager is, Sunderland need to be winning games against the sides near the foot of the table and with a week’s rest, there are no excuses for not doing so today.

Here’s how I think we’ll line up.


GK: Burge

After getting some much overdue attention on the latest Roker Rapport Xtra Podcast, Lee Burge will be looking to stretch his lead in the race for the Golden Glove by picking up his 18th clean sheet of the season against what is on paper weak opposition.

Ever since being dropped for one game at the beginning of February, Burge has proven why he was brought to the club alongside Jordan Willis on a free transfer and after some of the business we've seen over the last decade its good to see a free signing providing a solid pair of hands between the sticks.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

RB: Power CB: Sanderson CB: O’Nien LB: McFadzean

With Hume and Wright still not ready to return and McLaughlin away with Northern Ireland, Lee Johnson has the simple task of picking all of his available senior defenders for today's game.

Callum McFadzean's improved form, along with Hume's impending return, means Jake Vokins' Sunderland career may well have ended already despite just a handful of appearances for the young defender - I look forward to seeing him playing Champions League football alongside Jason Denayer and Adnan Januzaj in the coming years!

The rest of the back four is equally straightforward for the gaffer to pick. Sanderson and O'Nien's once impenetrable partnership has been more porous in recent games but remains a strong one considering its inexperience in that position.

Max Power is the main candidate to replace McLaughlin at right back and the former Wigan man has arguably performed better at full back than he has in his natural midfield role.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

CM: Winchester CM: Scowen

With a week's break since the last fixture, I'm predicting a return to the high-pressing system we saw Lee Johnson start to develop during the beginning of his time in charge.

This means Grant Leadbitter dropping to the bench in order to bring Josh Scowen's legs into the midfield, whilst Carl Winchester is certain to start in a deeper position than against Lincoln due to the reduced quality of the opposition and the return of Aiden O'Brien from injury.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

RM: Gooch AM: O’Brien LM: McGeady

As I have just mentioned, Aiden O'Brien is likely to return from injury to allow Winchester to move back to his more common deep-lying role.

Ross Stewart is in with an outside chance of playing after Lee Johnson insisted that he can play along with Charlie Wyke, but O'Brien has been the first choice number ten and this seems unlikely to change today.

In the wide areas, Lynden Gooch probably has one last chance to retain his place in the side before Jordan Jones comes back into the side whilst Aiden McGeady is still the man to start on the left wing after not being called up to the Republic of Ireland squad.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Andrew Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

ST: Wyke

The very fact that Lee Johnson insisted Stewart can play in the same team as Wyke goes to show how important Sunderland's number nine is at the moment.

His 22 league goals this season place him level with Jonson Clarke-Harris, hopefully he can secure both the Golden Boot and promotion for his side.