After a strong start to pre-season with a win over Hearts in Edinburgh, Sunderland were forced to settle for a slightly disappointing draw against York during midweek. However, results aren’t the most important thing in pre-season, and minutes given to new signing Corry Evans and a good performance and goal from Dan Neil meant that Lee Johnson can have left Wednesday’s game optimistic about the start of the season.
Sunderland will be without Lynden Gooch for today’s trip to Harrogate following the American’s withdrawal in the first half on Wednesday, whilst Alex Pritchard will also miss out due to the lingering effects of covid-19. Carl Winchester and Bailey Wright may both also miss out after being left out of the squad for the last match. Luke O’Nien should come back for his first game since signing his new contract.
Here’s how I think the lads will line up.
With Lee Johnson using pre-season as a chance to assess his options in each position, its likely that Antony Patterson returns between the sticks following Lee Burge’s chance against York.
The fact that the young shot-stopper can put genuine pressure on Burge for his place shows that his ceiling is clearly higher than that of the former Coventry man, so it would be good to see him force his way into the number one shirt before the beginning of the league campaign.
RB: Younger CB: Flanagan CB: Doyle LB: Dyce
With Sunderland still waiting to sign any new full-backs, Ollie Younger and Tyrese Dyce seem likely to be given an opportunity to show that they can at least act as capable deputies for whoever the club brings in as first-choice players in these positions.
Although Younger is naturally a centre-back, he was used as a full back in his first start for the club, and if he could develop into a player who could switch between right-centre-back and right-full-back, he could be a useful member of Lee Johnson’s squad, considering how much the former Bristol City gaffer likes to change formations.
Centre back is also pretty easy to predict due to lack of options, however, unlike with the full-backs, I wouldn’t be too surprised if Flanagan and Doyle did start the first game of the league season. With Arbenit Xhemajli unlikely to be ready for that game and Bailey Wright rumoured to be departing the club, pre-season could be the chance for this pair to make sure any new signings are forced to wait for their opportunities in red and white.
CM: Embleton CM: Neil CM: O’Nien
One of the main talking points going into today's game will be Lee Johnson's use of Luke O'Nien. Despite having no right backs in our squad, I'm still expecting Johnson to use the former Wycombe midfielder in a box-to-box role in which he managed to get a move to the Stadium of Light.
Alongside O'Nien, Elliot Embleton impressed in a more advanced role against York and I expect him to continue in the position which he will be competing for with Alex Pritchard.
Dan Neil also impressed at York, and with Corry Evans' workload needing to be managed carefully since he joined pre-season a little later than the rest of the squad I think the young midfielder could get the chance to build on his first Sunderland goal.
RW: Diamond ST: Stewart LW: McGeady
With Lynden Gooch out, Jack Diamond is almost certain to start on the right wing against the club where he made the step up to senior football.
Alongside the young winger, Aiden McGeady and Ross Stewart have been two of Sunderland's key players in pre-season so far and will both start today.