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Plymouth Argyle v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Saturday’s game is a must-win - so how should Alex Neil set us up?

How should Alex Neil set us up for Cambridge? It feels like a must-win, so do we tweak the starting XI and opt for a bit more attacking spark?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Ian Bendelow says...

Neil should set us up in the same way we started against Shrewsbury.

Yes, Cambridge are on a good run at the moment, but have suffered some heavy defeats in their last 10 games as well. Most importantly they have quickly conceded a second after going a goal down on a few occasions.

So it seems what will hurt them is what hurts all teams at this level - attacking at pace and in packs. I want to see Neil set up with a dynamic front three of Broadhead, Stewart and - hopefully - Pritchard. While Embleton looked good at first last time out at the SOL, the Shrews took control as we got deeper and he lost influence.

Evans should retain his place given recent performances - but it’s Dan Neil who I’d like to see back. It feels like he has more to give still this season, leaving Jay Matete the unfortunate one - though Neil could consider resting Evans for Rotherham.

I’d have back three of Winchester, Batth and Wright, with O’Nien and Cirkin on the flanks. It’s a gamble, especially as Cambridge’s Brophy tortured Max Power at the DW - but it’s what I’d go for.

We should play to our strengths and get Cambridge on the back foot from the off, as it allows us to be more dynamic. That’s the best way to nullify them. Plus, Clarke hasn’t really done enough to justify his place in the side, despite his late assist against Shrewsbury.

Sunderland v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Mark Carrick says...

It won’t happen, of course, but I would like to see Neil rotate the squad during these last three games. Partly to rest the likes of Stewart, but also to get some players back up to speed in time for the Play-offs.

Bringing back Doyle, Neil, and Pritchard would be a good sign. Maybe even Batth alongside Wright and Doyle as a back three would make us solid.

Push Cirkin and Winchester to Wing-backs and pair Matete with Neil in the middle of the park.

Hopefully Pritchard is fit to play behind Broadhead, and, with either Roberts or Embleton in support, this would give us creativity up front.

It crucially rests the likes of Stewart, Clarke and Evans ahead of Rotherham, but also offers vital minutes to those who have previously been rested.

Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says...

This is our last Saturday home game unless we get a top six spot, and we simply cannot afford to let our foot come off the gas while we have this chance to secure a play off place, and ideally also to take one step up the league structure this May. No promotion can happen unless we earn an extended season, and if we win against Cambridge, we will do that barring all but a couple of mathematical extremes.

In light of this, my view is we need to blow these guys away in the first 30-45 minutes and then manage the game out, rather than the “almost” version of that, which we showed against Shrewsbury. We made them look like schoolboys for 20 minutes, then let them back in through a lack of control and poor game management.

Cambridge have had hidings in the past dozen games or so (Wycombe and Wednesday have put 10 past them during the last five to six weeks), and we beat them in a hard battle in my own present home county of Cambridgeshire in howling winter winds, so we can do the double here. We cannot stand back though, we have to be assertive, get the lead, then run the show.

In terms of personnel, with Patterson a certainty, across the back I would like to see more people in their natural positions if possible. O’Nien is a great lad but he didn’t really work out where he was on Easter Monday. If we have an option to get Trai Hume (remember him?) on the right wing-back slot and Cirkin on the left, let’s do so, to get some width and balls whipped in. Let’s also have Baath, Wright and one other dependable person as the centre back trio (probably Winchester). Cambridge haven’t scored more than two since the last week of February… we should be able to outscore them if it comes to that.

The main changes I want to see are in the middle of the park, though. Evans has impressed me of late but we need more go forward and more clinical pass execution, so I would like to see Dan Neil and Alex Pritchard the first two names on the sheet, putting craft, skill and vision right up the spine of the team, maybe with Matete for structure and aggression around the centre circle. I’d also like to see Roberts get a start, probably with Embleton on the other wing rather than Clarke who was quite flat and wasteful on Monday, or Gooch who seems to have forgotten how to shoot, take on a man, or cross a good ball in.

Up front, while I agree that we have had to over-rely on Ros Stewart, we simply have to play him and Nathan Broadhead up front if we have the numbers available, to increase our attacking options, especially if Pritchard is running the show in the middle. If we operate effectively as an attacking formation for the first half, and get a couple of goals as a lead, then we can play a different way in the second period using the likes of Evans and O’Nien to break up play and run the midfield.

Let’s seal this one before pies and beers, and show this division how good we are at game management including a bit of totally legal “clock manipulation”.

What we cannot do is hold back and hope for the best, or dare to expect another 95th minute winner. I saw a bit of hoping and holding on at Home Park (though against better opponents than Cambridge are likely to be).

Our destiny is in our hands pre this game and to keep it that way we need to play our way, on our terms and take this one by the scruff of the neck.

I’ve just bought my ticket to come up, despite not originally planning to. Let’s get behind these lads and sort this playoff sh*te this weekend.


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