Gary Engel says...
All the time I’ve watched Sunderland from the mid-nineties, we’ve never had two such complete, or interchangeable starting elevens as we appear to possess now. Even during the 105 season, they talked about strength-in-depth, but not to this extent.
There were at least 4 players in last night’s starting side who are having to win places in our ‘league side’ that most would have assumed to be guaranteed first-teamers at the start of August.
It's a healthy dilemma for Lee Johnson to ponder over the coming months.
If anyone isn’t bang on their game for Saturday, Lee Johnson can almost switch like-for-like. We’ve all heard exciting a prospect Dajaku is and he did himself no harm on Tuesday night. Pritchard and Broadhead too are showing their vast credentials.
I doubt Johnson truly knows his best side yet, but we can’t complain in any way about our start so far or his handling of the squad to date. If our management of games is a little questionable, there are no end of players to choose from to answer any given question.
Joseph Tulip says...
With such a big, healthy squad, it’s great that we have so many options and so much strength in depth.
Lee Johnson said in his post-match interview it was “almost embarrassing” that Nathan Broadhead has not been starting, due to the competition ahead of him, and the gaffer also alluded to the quality of our summer recruitment.
We may have an embarrassment of riches at the moment, but we’ve seen in previous seasons that the rigorous League One fixture schedule tests every squad to the limit. A fully fit squad can very quickly become depleted due to injuries.
The league remains the priority and I’d stick with the first choice side which has started the campaign so well so far.
Johnson himself said selection was difficult but a healthy problem to have, and even acknowledged that we haven’t yet got a concrete starting XI. Therefore the likes of Broadhead and Huggins will surely have played themselves into contention for the weekend.
Cup runs can only be a positive this season, they will allow us to rotate and give all of our players game time. We can’t pick 22 players on Saturday but the competition is undoubtedly hot.
I’ve no doubt that everyone who impresses will get their chance to shine and every player will be essential between now and the end of the season.
Success breeds success so why not rotate and have a cup run, or two, while keeping the main focus on the league. We won a cup last season, but now we have the depth to compete on all fronts.
Malc Dugdale says...
That’s a great question, and one that is really going to cause some head-scratching for the head coach as we approach another crucial league pair of games, starting at home this Saturday vs Bolton, and then on Tuesday hosting Cheltenham.
Like many, I didn’t see the game, but from what I have read and based on the highlights, we played very well. We dominated the ball, had nearly twice the shots they did, were rarely troubled at the back and had some really encouraging performances in that win, which is exactly what we need after the disappointment of dropping two points away last weekend.
I think Huggins has the biggest shout for a league start after his man-of-the-match performance and assist, though it seems he did tire late on, and maybe still has fitness to build as he went off after 79 mins with cramp (I think, and we hope).
Luke has done himself no harm with a good performance and our second goal, but the other positive in midfield was the return of Evans who it seems controlled the game well. We have missed having that in his absence for me. The clean sheet happened for the goalie and defence, but I’d wager he was a big part of that in front of the back four.
In terms of attack, both Dajaku and Broadhead have reasons for a chance, and the way they combined apparently was very promising too. Pritchard played well too, but if he has to usurp Embo, he may still warm the bench as we run out.
The great thing is we have played a second team with eight changes (as did they, to be fair) but we showed the strength in depth we have, and for that, we and Johnson need to be very grateful. We will need that depth to carry on our residence in the top two spots in the long and gruelling league one season.
Whoever he picks I don’t think Johnson will have major issues with the personnel. He has created the embryo of a proper team spirit and ethic, and the players know they will get a chance if they fight for places and do well, even the youngsters.
In addition, I now feel we can and should have a real go in these cup runs, as that will keep all the troops active and happy, and continue to show us options and tactical variations to use.
Kelvin Beattie says...
This is a far healthier selection dilemma than we have had in a long while. However, I generally favour fielding our strongest team and most definitely feel the league games are a priority.
Wigan’s team showed just as many changes as ours. The takeaway from Tuesday night’s match is that we probably have the stronger squad. I do not feel our defence was put under much pressure, so if all are fit I would play The Hoff in “nets”.
Winchester and Cirkin are nailed on at full back. Doyle and Flanagan, for me, deserve the opportunity to continue their good start to the season as our central pairing. Huggins did his cause no harm last night and can continue to push on from the bench if fit.
Our midfield is a real conundrum. I would play Evans alongside O’Nien. Evans brought a measure of control and sensible passing, and puts his foot in at good moments.
McGeady Neil and Embleton all come back into the starting eleven, though McGeady is perhaps the luckiest of these given Dajaku’s good showing. Like Huggins, Dajaku can count himself unlucky, but hopefully will push on from the bench.
Stewart should return and build upon his great start to the season. Broadhead and O’Brien can both also count themselves unlucky not to play, but hopefully will get at least a bit of game time to keep their confidence flying. Pritchard, for me, still has a bit to do to hold down a starting place, though appeared to be a bit more at it on Tuesday.
I hope Johnson continues to rotate the team in cup games. Injuries, suspension, and loss of form all need to be planned for, and for the first time in a long time, it looks like we have canny options.