Hot on the heels of the end of the European Championships, which have served as a welcome distraction from the preparations for Sunderland’s fourth season in League One. That preparation will take a step up today as Lee Johnson’s side plays their first game of preseason - the exhibition match against Spennymoor at the beginning of the month notwithstanding.
Since that game, Luke O’Nien has signed a new contract meaning he should play this afternoon, as should both Corry Evans.
It’s almost impossible to guess the starting eleven for today’s game since it is likely that 22 players will feature, but Lee Johnson’s selection of formations could give us a good indication of how we can expect to see his side play when the season gets started in a few weeks time.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
Antony Patterson should put some more pressure Lee Burge for the coming season -the former Coventry ‘keeper faces tougher opposition than he had with Remi Matthews last year.
Whilst I expect both players to play a half today, Lee Johnson confirmed on Friday that it’ll be Patterson that begins the game between the sticks.
CB: Doyle CB: Wright CB: Flanagan
After a very injury-hit campaign in this position last season, something not helped by long-term injuries to Jordan Willis and Arbenit Xhemajli, Lee Johnson will be hoping to field his first-choice defence more often this year as we look to get out of the third tier.
The word on the street has been that Xhemajli remains injured, and with a replacement for Dion Sanderson yet to be sourced Sunderland remain a bit light in this area of the pitch. This means that, whilst Bailey Wright and Tom Flanagan are certain to start, the third spot in a back three, which is necessary due to our lack of left-backs, is up for grabs.
Ollie Younger should be available after missing the Spennymoor game due to COVID-19, but I’m backing new boy Callum Doyle to be given a starting berth.
RM: Gooch CM: Winchester CM: O’Nien LM: Diamond
Due to Sunderland’s lack of fullbacks, Lynden Gooch and Jack Diamond seem a pretty safe bet to start in the wingback positions as Lee Johnson is expected to go with a back three for today’s game. This is almost certainly Gooch’s best position, and depending on the profile Sunderland sign at right-back it could be Jack Diamond’s most common role this season.
In the centre of midfield, Luke O’Nien would probably find himself playing in defence if this were a league game, but he’s played only a handful of games in midfield and if he is to be used further up the pitch this season it’s vital he gets some minutes playing there in preseason.
Alongside O’Nien, Carl Winchester seems likely to start ahead of Corry Evans for no other reason than one of the pair will need to play in defence at some stage in this game, and the more defensive man is likely a better fit.
AM: Embleton AM: McGeady ST: Stewart
Sunderland played a genuine front three when they took on Spennymoor a couple of weeks ago, but since then we’ve added Pritchard to the attack, Aiden McGeady is available again and Corry Evans’ signing means Elliot Embleton can be considered for one of the forward roles.
In terms of starting players, it’s probably a toss-up between two of Embleton, McGeady, O’Brien and Grigg to support Ross Stewart in attack and whoever doesn’t start the game will probably make an appearance at some stage in the second half.
Alex Pritchard has COVID and hasn’t made the trip, so unfortunately won’t play.