After an impressive start to preseason with a win in Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon, Sunderland will go into tonight’s game against York City looking to build up some momentum in time for the start of the season.
Unfortunately, Luke O’Nien, Bailey Wright, Alex Pritchard and Josh Hawkes are all likely to miss out on tonight’s exhibition match due to a combination of minor injuries and covid-19. This means that, although significant changes from Saturday’s match can be expected to share the early pre-season minutes around, the small first team squad means that a handful of players will start both games.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
I incorrectly assumed that last season’s number one would be given the first game of pre-season, but following Patterson’s ninety minutes at the weekend, I would be shocked if Burge wasn’t given the same runout tonight.
Patterson’s start at the weekend probably shows that there’s genuine competition for the starting spot for the beginning of the season, and after Patterson’s clean sheet at Hearts it's up to Burge to follow suit tonight.
CB: Younger CB: Flanagan CB: Doyle
With Sunderland still yet to sign the four full-backs needed to complete their squad, I think Lee Johnson must be considering a switch to a 3-man defence in order to play as many players in their natural positions as possible during pre-season.
Carl Winchester is Sunderland’s current starting right-back, but this is a situation Johnson will be looking to avoid for much longer since he must be keen to get the January signing some minutes in midfield.
Tyrese Dyce’s struggles in the first half at the weekend makes his omission likely, so it’ll be two wingers playing as wing-backs which also necessitates a shift to 3-4-3.
Once you settle on playing a back three, the personnel is pretty easy to predict. Callum Doyle was impressive on debut at the weekend and his left-footedness means he should start on that side, with Tom Flanagan’s experience in the middle and Ollie Younger on the right, the role which Lee Johnson claimed last season was his preferred option for the young defender.
RM: Diamond CM: Winchester CM: Evans LM: Gooch
With Carl Winchester freed from his full-back duties, I expect to see him back in midfield playing as a number eight alongside Sunderland’s Grant Leadbitter replacement, Corry Evans. Evans was given half an hour at the weekend as he replaced Dan Neil, and I would expect the pair to swap roles tonight with Evans getting the lion’s share of midfield minutes.
In the wide areas, Lynden Gooch and Jack Diamond are Sunderland’s two genuine wingers in the squad, and these attributes should make them well suited to operate as the two wingbacks against lower league opposition in the form of York City - even if it’s likely to be one player or the other once the season kicks off.
AM: O’Brien AM: McGeady ST: Stewart
With both Gooch and Diamond starting further back in the side, the men starting in Sunderland’s attacking positions are likely to be three from O’Brien, Embleton, McGeady, Stewart and Grigg. Since Embleton played the full ninety minutes at the weekend, I’d be surprised if we saw him get more than 30 minutes on the pitch tonight as Johnson looks to share the miutes around the squad.
This means that O’Brien and McGeady are the two main candidates to start in the attacking midfield roles just as they did in Edinburgh where McGeady bagged a brace and O’Brien could have had a couple of goals of his own.
At the lone striker, Will Grigg was given a limited number of minutes at the weekend, but since Stewart is clearly the starting forward going into the campaign I’m backing the big Scot to be given another chance to make his mark from the first whistle even if he does get brought off early in the second half to give Grigg some minutes.