Malc Dugdale says…
My focus would be to get players into their natural positions as much as we can, so experience and instinct can make a difference if and when we need it.
Once Ross Stewart is fit, he’s an automatic starter, and the only question would be whether we play him with or instead of Ellis Simms.
Personally, I’d go with two up top, because Simms and Stewart are a handful for any team at this level when fit,
With the depth we have in midfield, I think Lynden Gooch, Jewison Bennette and Edouard Michut will have some work to do, but I’d expect to see Bennette on the bench at least when he returns from Qatar.
Gooch needs to see where Tony Mowbray can fit him in, as the right side of our attack is well-stocked, and the defence is in a better place too.
With both Amad and Patrick Roberts already showing good form and Jack Clarke one of the first names on the team sheet, I think Gooch will have to wait for his chance, as will Michut. The latter looks good but is still very lightweight, unless the right sort of opponent is at hand.
At the back, I’d like to see Mowbray bring both Aji Alese and Dennis Cirkin back into our starting eleven, possibly with Bailey Wright and the recently suspended Luke O’Nien making way.
Malc’s Sunderland starting XI:
Patterson, Huggins, Alese; Batth, Cirkin, Pritchard; Evans, Neil, Amad, Clarke, Stewart/Simms.
Substitutes: Roberts, Bennette, Wright; Gooch, O’Nien, Michut, Ba, Matete.
Ewan Bowman says…
I think our best formation is 4-4-3.
Anthony Patterson is the club’s undisputed number one and is getting better each week.
At right-back, I would go with Lynden Gooch. He’s had a good season up to now but with Niall Huggins, Trai Hume and Luke O’Nien all in the mix, he needs to stay on top of his game to keep the shirt.
Danny Batth is a certain starter, and when fit, Dan Ballard has to come back in.
My left back is a tough one. Dennis Cirkin had an outstanding start to the season, then Aji Alese came in and was equally as good. For me, Cirkin edges it, but Alese is unlucky to miss out.
In midfield, Corry Evans is a no-brainer in the holding role. I would play Dan Neil alongside him with Alex Pritchard in the number ten position.
On the left wing, Jack Clarke has been arguably one of the players of the season, not just for Sunderland but in the entire league, so he’s a certain starter. On the right, I have to go with Amad, who’s an outstanding talent and is really making the position his own.
Up front? It has to be Ross Stewart.
He’s quick and strong, his movement is excellent and he can score all types of goals. The complete striker.
Ewan’s Sunderland starting XI:
Patterson, Gooch, Ballard; Batth, Cirkin, Evans; Neil, Pritchard, Diallo; Clarke, Stewart.
Substitutes: Bass, Wright, Alese; Embleton, Ba, Roberts; Simms.
Kingsley Reavley says…
In my opinion, and based on performances to date, eight of the eleven positions pick themselves. The three that are up for debate are the full-back slots and who partners Corry Evans in the middle.
Anthony Patterson is a superb shot stopper and is gradually improving his communication, so hopefully he’ll be number one for many years to come.
Lynden Gooch is a bit of a marmite character among our fans, but for the most part he’s adapted well to playing in a new position in a higher division. It might set a dangerous precedent to start dropping players when they’ve contributed consistently well.
Aji Alese has been mightily impressive and I’d love to find a way to fit him in, but Dennis Cirkin gets the nod.
Evans and Alex Pritchard make up the spine of the team, and give us the vital experience we don’t have elsewhere in the side so simply have to play. Dan Neil for his creative spark just gets the nod in midfield.
On the wings, Amad and Jack Clarke just keep getting better and better.
They’ve proven that they’re more than capable of playing Championship football and are a nightmare for opposition full backs.
Upfront? It’s Ross Stewart, with no words necessary.
I think it shows how far we’ve come in a relatively short period that World Cup-level players in Jewison Bennette and Bailey Wright can’t make our starting eleven, and we can’t forget Patrick Roberts, a player with Champions League experience.
Kingsley’s Sunderland starting XI:
Patterson, Gooch, Ballard; Batth, Cirkin, Evans; Neil, Amad, Pritchard; Clarke, Stewart.
Substitutes: Bass, Wright, Alese, Matete, Embleton, Roberts, Simms.