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.
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.
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.
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.