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Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One

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Starting XI: Who’ll make the team for tonight’s massive clash versus Rotherham?

Could there be two changes for this evening’s clash at the Stadium of Light?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Saturday’s performance was excellent – we were at it from the off and didn’t give Cambridge a hope of getting anything from the game. Tonight will be a very different type of challenge – Rotherham are pretty much up if they win, so they’ve got a lot to play for. There were a number of excellent performances on Saturday, and while Neil says he doesn’t necessarily pick the team based on the previous fixture, it’ll be interesting to see who comes into his thinking bar the enforced switch due to Winchester’s injury.

Here’s how I think we might start the game.

Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson

Patterson had little to do on Saturday – he had no chance with their goal and will retain his place tonight. This will be his biggest test so far, though – Rotherham like to launch high balls into the box and Patterson will need to be up to the challenge.

Blackpool v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Second Round
Big test ahead
Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images

Defence: Bailey Wright, Danny Batth, Callum Doyle

I pondered Danny Batth’s absence when predicting the team to face Cambridge and, due to Cirkin’s injury, Batth was brought back into the team, and added a lot. He could be crucial tonight against Rotherham’s big striker Smith, who caused us all sorts of problems at their place earlier in the season. His selection will enable Wright to continue on the right – a position that suits him well – while Callum Doyle’s timely return to fitness will see him brought back into the starting line-up to give the defence some natural balance.

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Hopefully Doyle has benefitted from the break – he was superb earlier in the season and could be important tonight
Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Midfield: Lynden Gooch, Corry Evans, Jay Matete, Elliot Embleton, Luke O’Nien

This is where Alex Neil faces his most difficult decisions, and he’s got some big, big calls to make. Elliot Embleton was absolutely superb on Saturday in a deep-lying role, as was Lynden Gooch on the right, while Patrick Roberts showed up well, too. Jay Matete was left out of the team after an excellent performance at Plymouth, and at 3pm on Saturday I presumed that was so he was 100% for tonight. Neil’s said he picks teams purely for the challenge ahead, and past performances don’t come into it too much, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matete start in Embleton’s place deeper in midfield, with Embleton perhaps taking up a more advanced role. I think Matete’s bite and pressing will be important tonight. While Roberts played a very advanced left wing-back role on Saturday, I’d be surprised if we left ourselves exposed like that against Rotherham, who killed us down their flanks last time, so I expect to see O’Nien deployed there just as he was at Plymouth last week. Alex Pritchard got 30 minutes at the weekend, and the intention was probably to have him ready for 90 minutes tonight – but he could be on the bench again after Embleton’s performance on Saturday.

Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League One
Embleton’s come into form just at the right time – and he has experience of getting promoted with Blackpool last season, too
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Forwards: Nathan Broadhead, Ross Stewart

It was great to see Ross Stewart get a lovely goal from open play on Saturday, and both he and Broadhead provide a constant goal threat. More of the same please, lads – their quality could be the difference tonight.

Sunderland v Shrewsbury Town - Sky Bet League 1
More of the same please, Nathan
Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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