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Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light

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Starting XI: What the hell does Alex Neil do now then? Cards in the air, let's see where they land

Saturday was another disaster – will Alex Neil try anything different tonight?

Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Saturday was crap. Crap performance, crap tactics, crap line up. So, what will Alex Neil do tonight? Hopefully, he goes back to a more attacking formation, rather than trying to shoehorn players into a system he clearly wants them to play, but they’re clearly struggling with.

Ideally, I’d like us to go with three central defenders, but with injury concerns over Batth it’s difficult to come up with a balanced three-man defence. Also, Alex Neil isn’t a manager who tends to play with three central defenders, so I’m realistically hoping he goes with something like this – which helps us get more attacking flair into the team (given we had one shot on target on Saturday I’d say that’s a must) and enables us to drop Corry Evans.


Goalkeeper: Thorben Hoffmann

Hoffmann was on the bench on Saturday so must be relatively fit – get him back in the team. Patterson needs lower-level experience, he’s simply not ready for League One yet – he was so unpredictable coming off his line one moment and staying the next, it unsettles the defence way too much.

Sunderland v Plymouth Argyle - Sky Bet League One Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Defence: Trai Hume, Bailey Wright, Arbenit Xhemajli, Dennis Cirkin

Why Trai Hume was dropped on Saturday is anyone’s guess, but he’s got to come back into the team, if only to free up Winchester to play in midfield.

Callum Doyle needs a rest – he’s needed one since November – so it’s surely time for Xhemajli to come into the team? If he is one of our four first-choice centre backs – as Speakman told us – then he’s got to be ready for first-team action. If he’s not, further serious questions need to be asked. At left-back, well – we’re out of options aren’t we?

They obviously don’t fancy Dyce to make a step up – he’s injured anyway – as is Gooch – and I wouldn’t fancy seeing Dajaku all the way back there, so it’s Cirkin or... Cirkin.

Cirkin it is.

Sunderland v Aston Villa U21: EFL Trophy
Cometh the hour, cometh the man
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Midfield: Jay Matete, Carl Winchester

Matete had a mixed game on Saturday – he was excellent in the first half, really pressurising the MK Dons team and leading the way.

But then in the second half he didn’t have as much of an impact, and was involved in the two goals the opposition scored. That said, at least he was involved in the game, which is more than can be said for Evans and Neil.

The former just isn’t very good, and the latter in desperate need of a rest. For that reason, Winchester has got to come back into the centre.

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One
Another decent performance
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Attacking midfield: Patrick Roberts, Alex Pritchard, Jack Clarke

For whatever reason, Alex Neil has decided to put Pritchard out wide, which is a criminal waste of his talents.

Get him back in the centre, get Roberts and Clarke either side, and let’s get at this lot.

If we weren’t going to play Clarke and Roberts, then what the hell was the point of bringing them in?

Sunderland Unveil New Signing Patrick Roberts Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Striker: Ross Stewart

Well, a faint bright spot on Saturday was Stewart getting a goal, so he’ll likely start again. He’s another who needs a rest, but I just can’t see it.

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons - Sky Bet League One - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

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