Here we go again! With temporary head coach Mike Dodds in charge for today’s game against Doncaster, and a few new additions to choose from, it’s going to be an interesting team announcement at 2pm.
Dodds is a relatively new member of the footballing set up at Sunderland, but was appointed by Speakman and will of course be working to overall strategy/philosophy, so I don’t expect changes in how we play.
Personnel-wise, however, there are a few decisions to make. Regardless of anything else that’s gone on this week, Saturday’s performance on the field was a disgrace, and there’ll be some places under severe threat.
Here’s how we think we’ll line up today.
Goalkeeper: Thorben Hoffmann
Hoffmann was at fault for Bolton’s first, and didn’t cover himself in glory during the game. He’s young and inexperienced, and games like that are part of his learning experience. I’ve seen some harsh criticism of him online this week, but I think he’s by far our best keeper, and will certainly continue in goal today.
Defence: Trai Hume, Danny Batth, Callum Doyle, Dennis Cirkin
The decision to revert to a back four last week probably cost Lee Johnson his job – we were badly exposed across the park, and particularly down our right hand side. Our lack of depth across the back four has been well documented this week, and there aren’t too many options for Dodd to change it up. One switch I think he could make is Trai Hume coming in at right back, in place of Winchester. Hume’s had a month to settle in now, and on paper at least this is the ideal game for him to make his debut. However, Dodds may play it safe and stick with Winchester there – after all, he’s been excellent in that role for the majority of the season. Other than that, the back line will likely remain unchanged.
Midfield: Jay Matete, Dan Neil
We were poor all over the park last week, and no more so than in centre midfield, where Evans and Neil failed to get any control over the game whatsoever. Evans is a puzzle – he has his fitness issues, can’t string a run of games together and consequently is always chasing match sharpness. So, the dilemma today is do we stick with him in the knowledge he’ll be fitter than last week, or replace him with new signing Jay Matete? Matete – as we discussed on the site this week – seems to have been signed to complement Dan Neil, so do we bring him straight into the team this week? I think there’s a good chance we will – he’s been playing regularly at Fleetwood, so why not?
Attacking midfield: Patrick Roberts, Alex Pritchard, Jack Clarke
As a team we were poor defensively all across the park and it’s in the attacking third I expect to see changes. Roberts, Pritchard and Clarke were all introduced as subs, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them all start today as we look to take the game to Doncaster.
Pritchard has been class when fit this season, while Roberts and Clarke have been signed to give us additional options in the final third – and they’ve come to play. Again, while we have to be wary of the threat Doncaster pose, it’s an ideal game for them to come into. Speakman spoke this week about the need for bodies to choose from so we could maintain the high press and energy levels game in, game out, so expect to see some rotation here over the coming weeks.
Striker: Ross Stewart
It would take a brave manager to leave Ross Stewart out of the team, however, he’ll be looking to put in a far more effective performance than he did last week, when he spent the afternoon – once again – in Santos’s pocket.
Jermain Defoe’s arrival will be hugely beneficial to Stewart, who can learn so much from the former England striker, but I think it’s only reasonable to expect JD to get 20 minutes from the bench today as he builds up his match sharpness.