Tuesday night brought with it yet more formations and tactical changes from Alex Neil – and in the first half none of them paid off. It was one of the worst halves of football ever seen at the Stadium of Light – but thankfully the second half was significantly better.
The introductions of Gooch, Defoe and O’Nien improved the team considerably – as did the change to a back three – and Neil will surely be giving serious consideration to starting today in a similar fashion.
On the injury front, there are no new knocks from Tuesday, which is good news. Pritchard is expected to be missing this afternoon, but thankfully his injury isn’t as bad as first feared and he should be back sooner rather than later. The big question mark today surrounds Nathan Broadhead. Neil said after Fleetwood that if Broadhead is fit he plays, however, he sounded frustrated that Broadhead had ruled himself out of Tuesday’s game with what the manager described as tightness. So, whether Broadhead declares himself fit or not is the big unknown headed into today’s fixture.
Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson
He maybe could have done a little better with Fleetwood’s goal, but Patterson should keep his place today. He did go down with an injury in the first half on Tuesday, however, so that may open the door for Hoffmann to return.
Defence: Lynden Gooch, Carl Winchester, Bailey Wright, Callum Doyle, Dennis Cirkin
We went to a very attacking three at the back in the second half on Tuesday night, and that formation seems to suit us a lot better than four at the back at present. This is slightly problematic, as it reduces chances for the likes of Clarke, Roberts, Dajaku, but at this stage of the season that doesn’t really matter.
After a couple of weeks on the sideline, Callum Doyle should be ready to come back into the team, and I suspect he may come in ahead of Arby, who looked as though his return to competitive action had caught up with him a little bit on Tuesday night.
Despite his awful mistake that led to Fleetwood’s goal, Bailey Wright will surely keep his place in the centre of defence.
In the wingback positions, I expect we’ll see Gooch and Cirkin. One thing you can never criticise Gooch for is a lack of effort, and I think Neil values his willingness and workrate. Cirkin played well at The Valley last Saturday in a more advanced role, and will hopefully produce a similar performance today.
Midfield: Jay Matete, Luke O’Nien
Luke O’Nien’s return on Tuesday was very, very welcome – and he managed to cap his first appearance of the year with the goal that put us into the lead, too. We’ve really missed O’Nien since he’s been on the sidelines, and feel Matete could be a good partner for him in the centre of midfield. I think Neil may see this as a good game for O’Nien to continue his comeback and up his fitness levels, and the reality is that Corry Evans has been anonymous over recent weeks – we need to try a different midfield combination, and O’Nien’s return couldn’t be more timely.
Forwards: Jack Clarke, Ross Stewart, Jermain Defoe
Defoe clearly showed in the second half on Tuesday he still has a lot to offer, and I think we could see him from the off today, partnering Ross Stewart upfront. Jack Clarke had a bit of a frustrating game on Tuesday – his first half crossing was wild on occasion – but his goal was sublime, and I think if he’s deployed behind Defoe and Stewart in something of a free role to explore the spaces either side we could reap serious reward.