Sunderland have enjoyed an unbeaten preseason so far, and go into tonight’s game against Tranmere off the back of an impressive four-goal victory over Harrogate at the weekend.
Despite this being one of the final games before the beginning of the league campaign, we can expect to see a second-string side for tonight’s match since the standout fixture of Lee Johnson’s preparations is just three days away. The team for that game, against Hull City, is likely to be pretty close to the team that will play Wigan a week on Saturday.
Despite this, Bailey Wright and Lynden Gooch could both feature as the designated first-teamers since they both didn’t feature on Saturday.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
With both goalkeepers having played a game-and-a-half each up to this point, I’m expecting Lee Johnson to start his backup ‘keeper in tonight’s game before picking his starter for Friday’s game against Hull City.
Common sense would dictate that the first choice remains Lee Burge and although I think there’s a decent chance we see Patterson starting regularly before the end of the campaign it’s likely that Johnson gives the more experienced man the chance to retain his place before offering the gloves to the youngster.
If Patterson is the number two, he’ll start today.
RB: Richardson CB: Younger CB: Wright LB: Dyce
With Sunderland still yet to recruit any new fullbacks, we’re facing the possibility that Carl Winchester could be forced to start the season in defence, meaning that he’s likely to be used there again on Friday night. This means that two young players should get the chance to make their way into Lee Johnson’s plans before the start of the campaign.
Kenton Richardson made 43 appearances for Hartlepool before signing for Sunderland, and a player with such a large number of games must be hoping to get a chance in and around the first-team squad if he isn’t sent out on loan to League Two. With no natural right-back ahead of him, a good performance tonight could see him start the season ahead of an out-of-position Winchester.
The need to rest starting players before Friday’s game means that Ollie Younger is likely to get the chance to start in his natural centre-back position on a rare occasion in the Sunderland first team, and he should be alongside Bailey Wright who, despite being linked with a move away from the club, remains one of our better defenders and is in need of game time after not featuring in preseason to date.
On the left, Tyrece Dyce has struggled slightly so far, but he looks ready for men’s football physically and with a hole in Sunderland’s squad at left-back I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the bench when the league season kicks off.
CM: Neil CM: Wilding
With Carl Winchester needed at fullback, Luke O’Nien playing 90 minutes at the weekend and both Corry Evans and Elliot Embleton likely to be rested before playing on Friday, the chances are that we’ll see a very young centre midfield for tonight’s game.
Dan Neil should be able to return to his natural position after filling in at fullback against Harrogate, and he could be joined by former West Brom player Sam Wilding who joined on the expiry of his contract this summer and is described as a tough-tackling midfielder who could work well in a double-pivot alongside Dan Neil.
RM: Gooch AM: Hawkes LM: Kimpioka
Like Bailey Wright in defence, Lynden Gooch could be a rare experienced head in the midfield after he didn’t feature in the majority of our last two preseason games.
Alongside Gooch, Josh Hawkes could be given the chance to start ahead of what could be his breakthrough season after he impressed in the under 23s last term, with Alex Pritchard still out and unlikely to be fully fit for the beginning of the season this could be Hawkes’ chance to force his way into Lee Johnson’s plans.
On the left, Benji Kimpioka’s contract was extended in the summer after an injury-hit campaign last year and his pace could be a key weapon off the bench in the first few weeks of the season.
ST: Will Grigg
With Ross Stewart the clear first-choice centre forward, Will Grigg should be given tonight’s game to get some minutes in his legs. Grigg could do with a goal in order to build his confidence ahead of the competitive league season regardless of whether he spends it at the Stadium of Light or elsewhere in League One.