After what was, in the end, a comfortable three-one victory over a fuming Oxford United Sunderland go into today’s game knowing that a point would be enough to keep promotion in their own hands.
However, Lee Johnson doesn’t seem like the type of manager to play for a draw and you know for sure that the team we put out will be looking to put two or three goals past our promotion rivals and to find ourselves in the top two by the end of the day.
Unsurprisingly, most of the injury news is unchanged from Friday’s game - Wright, Willis, Xhemajli, Flanagan and Vokins all remain out - but Denver Hume should be in the squad after just missing out at the Stadium of Light. It wouldn’t surprise me if today’s game has been the target for a while now and by giving him four more days to recover the academy graduate could be in line for a start today.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up as we look to go into second place.
A nice and easy start once again as Lee Burge is sure to start after being unable to do anything about Oxford’s goal on Good Friday before being relatively untested for the final 60 minutes of the match.
In an ever-changing back four, Burge has been one of the only constants and deserves the recognition he finally seems to be getting after Sanderson, O’Nien and Co. have gained the plaudits for our defensive performances this term.
RB: Power CB: Sanderson CB: O’Nien LB: Hume
With four centre backs still out injured, Dion Sanderson and Luke O’Nien are certain to continue their partnership as Sunderland look to keep out the league’s top scorer Jonson Clarke-Harris.
The pair showed how when playing high up the pitch, the pair’s ability to progress the ball up the field allows a more workmanlike midfield to be selected by Lee Johnson, in the knowledge that the centre backs can take care of our buildup play. Bailey Wright is a fabulous defender, and will surely come back in when fit, but for now, it's a good idea to enjoy the positives of playing the skilful pair of O’Nien and Sanderson in the heart of the defence.
In the wide areas, I’m expecting a couple of changes with Max Power shifting to right-back in place of Conor McLaughlin in order to allow a change to be made in midfield.
On the left, Denver Hume was close to making his return on Friday, and I think that, despite McFadzean’s solid recent performances, Sunderland’s attacking play could go to another level with Hume offering support on the overlap to a very central Aiden McGeady.
CM: Scowen CM: Winchester
With Power switching to right back, I’m backing Carl Winchester to return to the midfield after being somewhat harshly left out against Oxford United. Lee Johnson has shown in previous games against the top sides that he looks to play a more controlled style of play in possession and Winchester is the man around which that style can be built.
Josh Scowen was brilliant on Friday and, like Lee Burge, is starting to get the recognition he deserves after being played wildly out of position under the previous manager and being asked to contribute in attacking areas, something which is simply not a part of his skill set.
RM: Jones AM: O’Brien LM: McGeady
Jordan Jones was fit enough to go straight back into the starting line up following his absence with an injury, and his brilliant play to set up Lynden Gooch’s goal showed exactly what Sunderland have been missing since the Northern Irish international was forced out of the side.
Despite his good performance, Jones was replaced after an hour-or-so and this seems to suggest that he will start once against today in what is arguably the more important game of the Easter weekend.
Lynden Gooch, despite not having his best game in Red and White, managed both a goal and an assist playing in a more central role than in recent games. However, I believe he will be forced to settle for a spot on the bench, possibly to replace Jordan Jones for the last 30 minutes, with Aiden O’Brien coming back into the side.
It may seem harsh to drop a player who played such a crucial role in our last win, but Lee Johnson mentioned after Friday’s game that O’Brien’s absence was linked to the need to play a more direct style of play on Peterborough’s Accrington-esque pitch and O’Brien suits this style more than the energetic Gooch.
Something of which there is no doubt is that Aiden McGeady will start on the left as he continues to be the team’s main creator. He turned into goalscorer on Friday as he and Charlie Wyke switched roles, but with O’Brien acting as a target man I wouldn’t be surprised to see a McGeady-Wyke assist and goal combination in today’s game.
Like Aiden McGeady on the left, Charlie Wyke is certain to start up front for Sunderland. As the data visualisation below shows, Wyke played the role of creator on Friday as Lynden Gooch looked to get in behind and stretch the Oxford defence, but if O’Brien does come back in we’re likely to see Charlie Wyke the goalscorer return at the Weston Homes Stadium.