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Sunderland v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One

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Starting XI: How will The Lads line up at Oxford today?

Is today a must-win or a must-not-lose? You could argue either way, but Alex Neil’s team selection will tell us a lot about which side of the fence the manager’s on... Here’s how we think we’ll line up today.

Photo by Trevor Wilkinson/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

It’s a big test for Sunderland this afternoon, but with a few players coming back from injury Alex Neil has a strong squad to pick from.

I think this will be a selection based on the whole game, in that we’ll keep a couple of players people may expect to start on the bench to enable us to change the game in the last 20 minutes if need be.

Here’s how we could line up today...

Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson

Patterson’s played well in recent weeks, and while he has been very well protected by a solid defence, he’s done what he’s needed to do confidently and competently. Today could be the biggest test he faces for a while, however, but hopefully he’ll use the confidence gained over recent weeks to his advantage.

Lincoln City v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One
Patterson could face his biggest test in a while today
Photo by Chris Vaughan - CameraSport via Getty Images

Defence: Lynden Gooch, Carl Winchester, Danny Batth, Bailey Wright, Dennis Cirkin

The selection today’s going to be interesting, and I think we’ll see a ‘whole of game’ approach. Alex Neil made the point that Oxford sometimes line up with a back four and other times in a back three, and we’d be able to adapt in-game to whatever we face.

Given that, I think we’ll see Lynden Gooch line up at right wing back, which obviously gives us the opportunity to flip that to a four by pushing Gooch further up. The rest of the defence will likely remain unchanged, after a solid display against Gillingham.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One
Gooch’s versatility could be important today
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Midfield: Corry Evans, Luke O’Nien, Alex Pritchard

Some may not be too willing to admit it, but Corry Evans has stepped up a level over the past few weeks, and has played an important role in the team’s performance.

O’Nien’s been a welcome addition to the midfield, too, and while it’s hard on Dan Neil and Jay Matete, it’s likely we’ll see the two of them continue in the centre of midfield. Ahead of them, Alex Pritchard will surely continue in a number 10 role.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One
Evans’ form has picked up since Neil’s arrival
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Forwards: Nathan Broadhead, Ross Stewart

Ross Stewart’s position is a given, and if we start with a back five/three, we’ll see two up front. Alex Neil basically said last week that if Broadhead’s fit he starts, so after his goalscoring run out against Gillingham it’s likely we’ll see the Everton loanee in from the start.

While that may be harsh on Patrick Roberts particularly, I think this is a game where we’ll be thinking of the team as a whole, rather than the starting XI.

With the likes of Roberts and Clarke to bring off the bench, as well as Dan Neil, Jay Matete, Elliot Embleton, we have a good hand to play if needed.

Sunderland v Gillingham - Sky Bet League One
Broady’s back, and firing too
Photo by Trevor Wilkinson/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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