Despite suffering our first defeat of the season away at Burton Albion on Tuesday night, Sunderland continued to perform in a manner that gives us a good chance of finally getting out of this division at the fourth time of asking.
After potentially suffering an injury crisis in midfield or Tuesday’s game, Luke O’Nien was thankfully able to return from illness to partner Dan Neil in the absence of club captain Corry Evans. Evans remains the only short term absentee, alongside Willis and Xhemajli who we can disregard for selection for a while yet.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
GK: Lee Burge
News during the week of a potential return for Vito Mannone probably makes Lee Burge’s position in the side a vulnerable one, but perhaps more clearly indicates that the powers that be at the Stadium of Light don’t view Anthony Patterson as ready to step up, and become our starting man in between the posts. A new goalkeeper in this window would probably indicate a loan spell away for our current number two.
This means Lee Burge is likely to keep his spot for this weekend’s game, even if he may find himself on the bench before the end of the transfer window.
RB: Winchester CB: Flanagan CB: Doyle LB: Cirkin
With the arrival of Niall Higgins, the days of Carl Winchester at right back could be numbered, but until then the former Forest Green midfielder will probably continue in the defence.
The arrival of a new full back is probably the only way we’ll see a change to our back four, with Tom Flanagan performing above expectations in the last couple of games and Callum Doyle and Dennis Cirkin both brought in to be regular starters throughout the season.
CM: Neil CM: O’Nien
With Corry Evans injured and Carl Winchester needed at full-back, the midfield duo of Luke O’Nien and Dan Neil has very little chance of being disturbed for today’s game.
Neil has been one of the standouts of the season so far, and has the first chance of his Sunderland career to nail down a place in the starting eleven before the return of Evans in a fortnight's time.
RM: Gooch AM: Embleton LM: McGeady
Sunderland created more than enough to win by three or four goals on Tuesday night, and the evidence so far is that our attacking midfield trio have enough to mount a serious title challenge.
Lynden Gooch wasn’t at his best at the Pirelli, but probably has enough credit in the bank to continue ahead of Jack Diamond for today’s game.
Likewise, Aiden McGeady could find his place under threat from Alex Pritchard, as Elliot Embleton continues to be our standout creative player, but after being involved in three of our four goals this year, he should also be given the chance to redeem himself after a disappointing performance on Tuesday.
With the arrival of Nathan Broadhead earlier in the week, Sunderland now have a genuine alternative to Ross Stewart for the centre forward position.
Despite this, Ross Stewart remains the clear favourite ahead of both Broadhead and O’Brien, and whilst the Everton loanee can provide the threat in behind and O’Brien can provide similar link-up play, neither option lives up to the overall game of our Scottish striker.