It seems like an age since Sunderland’s 3-1 win against Wycombe took us top of the league, but with a busy end to the transfer window and last week’s results keeping us top for this round of fixtures it was a good fortnight to be a Sunderland fan, even if there wasn’t the chance to see another win for Lee Johnson’s men last Saturday.
New signings Ron Hoffmann and Leon Dajaku are both options for Lee Johnson should the former Bristol City boss want to give them a debut.
The treatment room seems to be pretty empty at the moment, with long-term absentees Arbenit Xhemajli and Jordan Willis joined by only Denver Hume who is still building up his fitness after signing his contract during the international break.
Here’s how I think the Lads will line up.
GK: Ron Hoffmann
Although Anthony Patterson has impressed on his limited first-team appearances so far, it was always the case that if someone with a higher reputation was brought in before the end of the transfer window then Patterson would return to the bench.
Ron Hoffmann has been signed from Bayern Munich to play games and, having had a couple of weeks since signing to get to know his teammates, there’s no reason why his debut should be delayed beyond today’s game.
RB: Winchester CB: Flanagan CB: Doyle LB: Cirkin
With Denver Hume finally signing a new contract, Sunderland’s depth at the back looks much better. Hume’s need to regain full fitness means Dennis Cirkin has a few more games to cement his place in the team before genuine competition arrives.
On the right, Carl Winchester can be considered our first choice full-back on that side for the foreseeable future since only Niall Huggins is a natural at right-back. With our depth in midfield, Winchester is likely to find plenty of opportunities on the right of a back four rather than in his natural midfield role.
In the middle, Tom Flanagan and Callum Doyle have made a great start to the season, and there’s no reason to interrupt their promising partnership.
CM: Neil CM: O’Nien
Although Winchester’s switch to full-back has removed one member of the competition for places in centre midfield, the fact that the trio of O’Nien, Evans and Neil are all competing for two spots in the starting lineup makes this part of the pitch a difficult one to predict.
In my opinion, Dan Neil has to start in as many league games as possible, not only due to his potential, but because even now he is the best midfielder we have at progressing the ball from deep – either through line-breaking dribbles or through his eye for a pass.
Luke O’Nien would be my choice as his partner against a physical Accrington side, with Corry Evans reserved for situations when we’re likely to have complete control of the possession, or against sides like MK Dons who offer less of a physical threat.
RM: Gooch AM: Embleton LM: McGeady
If the holding midfield roles are looking competitive for Lee Johnson’s side, attacking midfield is absolutely stacked. Gooch, Embleton, McGeady, Pritchard, Dajaku, Broadhead and O’Brien are all capable of playing in the three roles behind Ross Stewart and only Embleton is sure to start today’s game.
I predict Johnson to keep faith with Gooch and McGeady in the wide areas, mainly since the team performance has been so strong with those two in the starting lineup, but if Dajaku and Pritchard both started it wouldn’t be a total surprise and would, arguably, make us a stronger attacking side.
Will Grigg’s departure and the arrival of Leon Dajaku rather than an out-and-out striker serves to underline Ross Stewart’s position as our first choice centre forward.
Nathan Broadhead and Aiden O’Brien are capable of replicating certain aspects of the big Scot’s game, but Stewart has Broadhead’s ability to stretch play in behind, O’Brien’s movement out of possession (and Wyke’s goalscoring from last season). The Highland Haaland is our clear first choice for good reason.