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Sunderland v Doncaster Rovers - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light

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Starting XI: We’re predicting TWO changes to Alex Neil’s team for this afternoon’s game

Who will the new head coach name in his starting XI for on SoL debut?

Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Alex Neil changed things up a bit last week, strengthening the midfield and sacrificing a bit of attacking flair. It worked to some extent – well, we got a point – but in truth the performance was poor and we barely laid a glove on a side struggling down the bottom of the table.

After facing Wimbledon last week we take on their alter ego MK Dons, and after a full week’s training Alex Neil will have more of an idea of who’s who and what changes could be made to get what would be a vital three points.

Goalkeeper: Thorben Hoffmann

The German stopper has been sidelined with illness over the past couple of weeks, and wasn’t in the best form prior to that, but while he has his weaknesses he’s the strongest keeper we have – hopefully he’s fit enough to start.

Sunderland v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League 1 Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Defence: Trai Hume, Bailey Wright, Callum Doyle, Dennis Cirkin

Bailey Wright’s return last week was welcome, and he added some solidity to a back line that’s looked woeful at times recently. Unfortunately for Alex Neil, he’s been left spectacularly short at the back and, in reality, I don’t see what else he can do here. Maybe, if Batth is fit he could come in alongside Wright to give Doyle a rest, or push Doyle to left back to give Cirkin a rest – however, I don’t think he’ll do either. As you were.

Shrewsbury Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Bailey Wright added some much needed leadership to the backline
Photo by James Baylis - AMA/Getty Images

Midfield: Jay Matete, Dan Neil, Alex Pritchard

In some respects, the switch to a 3 in the centre of midfield worked, but it neutered us going forward, and with it being a home game – and Neil’s first at that – I think he’ll go a little more attacking. I expect Winchester to drop out of the team and Pritchard to play a bit deeper. To be fair, based on last week, Winchester or Neil could drop out of the starting XI, but I think he’ll sacrifice the Northern Ireland man. Pritchard, for all his quality, struggled a little last week playing out wide – he’s far more effective centrally. Jay Matete has impressed despite recent results, and is a nailed on starter.

Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Pritchard has star quality, but needs to be in the centre of the field to make things happen
Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

Attacking midfield: Patrick Roberts, Jack Clarke

With three in midfield we need some genuine width, and I think Patrick Roberts and Jack Clarke will give us that. Neither have played much this season so need game time – but conversely aren’t suffering from the tiredness Neil has talked about.

Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Will Patrick Roberts get his first start?
Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

Striker: Ross Stewart

Alex Neil brought off Ross Stewart at Wimbledon, and highlighted the fact he needed a rest. I do wonder whether starting Defoe and giving Stewart the last half hour would be a good approach to both managing Stewart and Defoe’s fitness, but on consideration, I don’t think Neil will do that, particularly with it being his first home game. Stewart’s looked a shadow of his former self in recent weeks, but hopefully, he can hit the form we know he’s capable of today.

Sunderland v Portsmouth - Sky Bet League One
Needs a goal!
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


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