With just one game remaining in pre-season, Sunderland remain unbeaten and will be keen to continue that record ahead of tonight’s test against Championship side Hull City.
The Tigers are by far the sternest test Lee Johnson’s men will face before Wigan next week, and with a youthful side picked for Tuesday’s game against Tranmere it's likely to be as full-strength as possible for tonight’s final act of the preparations.
With the exception of Alex Pritchard, who according to Lee Johson is 30% of the way to full match fitness, Sunderland have no major injury worries going into tonight’s game, and Lynden Gooch is expected to make his first appearance since picking up a knock against York City.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
GK: Lee Burge
If there was any doubt about which man possessed the gloves going into the new season, Antony Patterson’s selection in Sunderland’s second-string side on Tuesday evening all-but-confirmed that Lee Burge will start the season in goal.
The former Coventry ‘keeper has been a safe pair of hands by League One standards, and whilst Patterson has a higher ceiling and a bright future in the game, it seems fair to give the more experienced man the opportunity to show he’s still deserving of his starting berth.
RB: Winchester CB: Flanagan CB: Doyle LB: Dyce
The heart of the defence is probably the least of Sunderland’s worries at the moment, and although Bailey Wright returned to play against Tranmere on Tuesday I still expect Tom Flanagan to come back in and resume what has been the most regular defensive partnership of preseason alongside Callum Doyle.
On the right, although he is clearly a midfielder, Carl Winchester has been the man tasked with filling in at right-back and, unless Sunderland have made a secret signing in that position, I expect him to continue there tonight.
At left-back, Tony Gallacher was likely earmarked for this role before his move fell through late in the day but with Sunderland still yet to sign a replacement for Denver Hume and Callum McFadzean its likely to be Tyrece Dyce who continues in this position after he was given just 45 minutes at Tranmere and is, therefore, the most likely of Tuesday’s starters to keep his place for tonight’s game.
CM: O’Nien CM: Evans
Although Dan Neil has enjoyed a productive pre-season campaign, and currently finds himself as the next-man-in to the Sunderland midfield whilst Winchester is used at full-back and Pritchard remains unavailable, I fully expect new signing Corry Evans to start the season in the engine room alongside Luke O’Nien.
O’Nien especially seems a certainty to start, with his ability to get about the pitch setting him apart from both the other midfielders at the club and also from last season’s one-paced midfield of Power, Scowen, Leadbitter and co.
RM: Gooch AM: Embleton LM: McGeady
Jack Diamond was probably the only player to start on Tuesday night who isn’t guaranteed to find himself on the bench when the season starts next weekend but instead reflects Lynden Gooch’s need for a couple of more days rest before he can return to the side tonight.
The choice between Diamond and Gooch is the only question mark about Sunderland’s attack facing Lee Johnson at the moment, with Aiden McGeady continuing to be our most creative player and Elliot Embleton streets ahead of Aiden O’Brien and, in the absence of Alex Pritchard, having very little competition for his place in the side for the beginning of the campaign.
With Will Grigg again firing blanks and looking generally a bit useless upfront on Tuesday night, Ross Stewart is clearly the first choice centre forward and will start in tonight’s game as a result.
The Scottish striker’s movement has been good in preseason, but he has failed to score to this point and will be keen to bag tonight in order to get that particular monkey off his back before the real stuff starts next weekend.