Despite failing to win any of their last seven games in League One, Sunderland go into today’s match knowing that a win would secure their place in the playoffs before the last game of the season next weekend.
If the game is a slight dead rubber for Lee Johnson’s side - it’s unlikely we will drop out of the top six due to the number of teams needing to win both of their remaining games - today's opposition have nothing to play for at all. Plymouth sit nine points clear of the relegation zone and 16 points off the playoffs, so Sunderland should be fancied for today’s game as long as they are up for it.
On the injury front, Lee Johnson mentioned he has a few decisions to make over whether to risk players who picked up a knock against Blackpool in midweek but refused to give away the individuals he was referring to.
However, Conor McLaughlin has a chance of being involved after an ahead-of-schedule return from a hernia operation, and Tom Flanagan and Jake Vokins are both close to a return that is likely to come next Sunday. Jordan Willis, Dion Sanderson and Arbenit Xhemajli are all out, with Willis likely to be missing for another 12 months.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
Fresh off being named in the League One team of the season, Lee Burge will be looking to grab the first of two end-of-season clean sheets in order to build up some form going into a potential playoff campaign.
Burge was a large part of Sunderland’s good run of form under Lee Johnson, and you fancy he’ll need at least one more clean sheet if the season is to end with promotion.
CB: Younger CB: Wright CB: O’Nien
With Plymouth expected to play two strikers this afternoon, either in a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lee Johnson field a back three for today’s game in a bid to give his side a spare man when playing out from the back.
Luke O’Nien and Bailey Wright are both pretty certain to start due to us having no other options in the absence of Tom Flanagan for another weak, which means that it’s between Ollie Younger and Conor McLaughlin for the spot on the right of our back three.
Personally, I’d opt for Younger from the start and Johnson has mentioned previously that he sees the right centre-back position as his best role in the side. With McLaughlin only just returning from injury it would be wise to give the former Millwall defender half an hour from the bench rather than risking him from the start.
RM: Gooch CM: Winchester CM: Power LM: Hume
If Sunderland are to line up with a back three for today’s game, Lynden Gooch and Denver Hume are almost certain to start in the wing-back positions. Wing back is arguably Gooch’s best position since it makes use of his work rate in defence and also simplifies his instructions when going forward.
In midfield, Josh Scowen went off in midweek and after playing a lot of football - and starting almost all of our recent defeats - the removal of Power from right-back could mean the former QPR midfielder is replaced by Sunderland’s captain.
Alongside Power, Carl Winchester seems a better fit than Grant Leadbitter in a midfield two and should be given the chance to start.
AM: McGeady ST: Stewart ST: Wyke
Upfront, Lee Johnson continues to have a variety of options since all of our injuries come at the back.
Aiden McGeady is presumably not one of the players carrying a knock since he has played both games since missing out with a bruised foot a couple of weeks ago. He is certain to start either centrally or on the left-hand side.
Charlie Wyke is another who is extremely likely to start, which means that Lee Johnson has just one decision to make in regards to his attacking trident.
If we go for a 3-4-3, Jordan Jones or Jack Diamond will surely be preferred over Aiden O’Brien and Ross Stewart - who would suit a 3-4-1-2.
With Plymouth potentially playing a back three, I’m picking Ross Stewart to partner Wyke upfront meaning Aiden McGeady can be given a free role in behind the pair of forwards.
The big forward has disappointed since his debut goal away at Accrington, but O’Brien has played a lot of football recently and the next couple of games could be a chance for the January signing to play himself into form before the playoffs.