Malc Dugdale says…
I think that there is a strong argument for not messing with the starting eleven from the semi-finals, on the basis of, ‘it isn’t broke, so don’t fix it’.
That said, the availability of the likes of Carl Winchester, Leon Dajaku and Aiden McGeady does offer Alex Neil some fantastic options if needed, but in the main, it is likely that these players will feature from the bench.
I expect us to start the game with three central defenders, supported by wing backs, as they will give us solidity at the back, but will also add width and extra manpower to the midfield as needed.
Winchester could well feature either at right wing back, or in the back three, depending on his level of fitness. He’s a no-nonsense footballer, so he would be a good option to take the sting out of the physical approach that Wycombe will utilise.
In midfield, it’s a toss of a coin for me.
Does Neil go for a physical setup, including Corry Evans and Luke O’Nien, as well as maybe Jay Matete? Or does he drop at least one of the physical players for a creative option, with the likes of Elliot Embleton or Dan Neil through the middle?
Personally, I would go with Embleton, as we need to try and open Wycombe up early, before consolidating and managing the game.
Upfront, I would start both Nathan Broadhead and Ross Stewart, and hit Wycombe with pace, flair, and creativity from the off. If Neil believes that Broadhead is still short of fitness, using him for the final thirty minutes, and hopefully watching them flap and panic, isn’t a bad option either.
Selection-wise, we need to consider who is going to rise to the occasion and who might struggle. Again, the coach has shown a knack for managing young footballers, so he will certainly be considering this angle, too.
The biggest factor ahead of this game is that we have options, which is something we have often been sorely lacking at times this season, and also during previous games at Wembley. In Neil, we have a manager who can use those options better than most, and who is as much of an asset to us as the players.
Regardless of who starts, and who subsequently comes on from the bench, I can’t wait to see the Lads run out and take this challenge on, in front of about 45,000 of their fans.
It’s going to be epic!
The harsh reality is that everything that has happened during this season is now irrelevant, as our promotion push comes down to this one game.
Forget about who has played too much, who needs minutes, or who played well last week. We simply need to put an XI out on the pitch that gives us the best chance of a result inside ninety minutes.
We cannot take the risk of holding players back for the last ten minutes and the possibility of extra time, as that opportunity may not present itself.
For me, Wycombe are most difficult to beat when they are allowed to settle into a game and start deploying their anti-football tactics. With that in mind, I want to see us attack from the off, and push them back with a high press. Regardless of sentiment, Alex Neil should field a team that is capable of frightening them and forcing them back.
To achieve that, I think we need to start with a front four of Patrick Roberts, Alex Pritchard and Jack Clarke behind Ross Stewart.
To further impose ourselves, I’d want to see a back four with Dennis Cirkin on on the left, after he and Clarke worked superbly together in frightening the life out of the Sheffield Wednesday full-backs.
Lynden Gooch and Carl Winchester are interchangeable, but whoever it is needs to get forward and support Patrick Roberts, overlapping and giving him the space to work his magic!
Luke O’Nien did a fantastic job at nullifying Barry Bannan for most of the two-legged semi-final, but that might not be the case on Saturday, so I’d be happy to see Jay Matete complete that central block.
Neither Alex Pritchard or Nathan Broadhead currently seem to have ninety minutes in them, but both ooze class, so a swap there, with the timing depending on circumstance, gets Broadhead into the game with the opportunity to either win it or kill it off.
Get at them early, frighten them into retreat, attack them into submission! 2-0 to The Lads!
Phil West says…
As the lads have already discussed, the fact that Alex Neil has a multitude of options at his disposal is a major boost. It will enable him to field a strong starting eleven, and provide him with the scope to change things as the game unfolds.
Every player will need to play his part on Saturday, and I hope that there will be a collective effort from the entire squad to ensure we finish the job. Team spirit has been incredibly strong recently, and I am certain that there will be a ruthless focus on securing promotion by the time the final whistle is blown.
In terms of the formation, I suspect we may see Sunderland line up with three central defenders and two wing backs, with Bailey Wright, Danny Batth and Dennis Cirkin anchoring things, and Lynden Gooch and Jack Clarke providing the horsepower down the flanks. This would give us adequate defensive cover, two useful outlets out wide, and with Carl Winchester as an additional option, we are well-stocked in that area.
In the engine room, Corry Evans is obviously a nailed-on starter, and although we have some genuine ball-playing options who could slot in alongside him, I have a feeling that Luke O’Nien will be asked to empty the tank once again. Completing the picture, and hopefully back at full fitness, will be Alex Pritchard, who is certainly capable of working his magic on the grandest stage of all.
Upfront, it’s obviously Ross Stewart to lead the line, and initially, I think it will be Patrick Roberts playing off him. Nathan Broadhead will definitely figure, but that may well be at a later stage, when his pace can hopefully cause problems for what will be a tired Wycombe defence.
From the bench, the fact that we should be able to call upon the likes of Elliot Embleton, Dan Neil, and perhaps Aiden McGeady for one final cameo, is another huge positive. Simply put, we should have enough to win this game, albeit with an awareness of how challenging it will be.
I want us to play with verve, pace, and positivity. Let’s take the game to Wycombe, stand strong in the face of what will be an inevitable physical challenge, and ensure that this Wembley trip does not end in yet more crushing disappointment.
Alex Neil is ready, the fans are ready, and the players will be too.