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Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One

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Starting XI: Who will be in the starting XI tonight as Sunderland face huge Hillsborough test?

It’s do or die for Sunderland tonight. How will Alex Neil line the lads up?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Alex Neil sprang a surprise on Friday by reverting to a back four, and it’ll be interesting to see how he lines the team up this evening against a Sheffield Wednesday side who’ll be buoyed by the fact they escaped from the Stadium of Light with just a single goal deficit. With doubts about Nathan Broadhead’s fitness still lingering, and Alex Neil confirming there were no other injury problems, I think we could line up like this tonight.

Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson

Patterson had one shaky moment when he was all at sea trying to deal with a second-half cross from the left, but apart from that he was assured and confident in the little he had to do. He’ll have a far, far busier night tonight, and how he performs will be decisive for us.

Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi Final 1st Leg
Patterson stood up well to the challenge on Friday – we’ll need a good performance from him tonight, too
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

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

Alex Neil sprang a surprise by reverting to a back four on Friday, and I think we’ll go the same again tonight. Lynden Gooch turned in a strong performance at full-back, Dennis Cirkin performed excellently in his more natural left-back position, while Wright and Batth were solid. We need similar levels of performance from all of them tonight.

Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League 1 Play-Off S-F
Gooch has been in excellent form over the past few weeks – when he’s playing like he has been doing he’s a brilliant addition to the team
Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Midfield: Alex Pritchard, Corry Evans, Jay Matete, Luke O’Nien, Jack Clarke

I think this is where we’ll see the only change to the team tonight, with Roberts’ flair being sacrificed for Jay Matete’s physicality and work rate. We saw Matete in the midfield at Wigan and Plymouth, and those two games provide something of a blueprint for tonight. Luke O’Nien did a brilliant job on Barry Bannan, and we’ll surely see him attempting to repeat the performance tonight. Corry Evans led the side wonderfully well – he’s been a revelation since Neil came in – and he’s a guaranteed starter if fit. Pulling an extra man into the centre of midfield will see Pritchard asked to do a job on the right, particularly when we don’t have the ball, while on the left it’s a toss-up between Roberts and Clarke. Personally, I’d go for Roberts, but Neil seems to like Clarke out there so I suspect he’ll get the nod.

Sunderland v Rotherham United - Sky Bet League 1
Will Matete come back into the team?
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Forward: Ross Stewart

Stewart got a little bit fortunate that the keeper inadvertently knocked the ball back into his path on Friday – it was a lovely finish in the end, but he really should have scored first time. It was nice to see him back among the goals, however, and hopefully, he’s confident heading into tonight. We need a big performance from Stewart – he’ll be pivotal in providing us with an outlet and letting us get back up the field, and he’s more than capable of doing just that.

Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League 1 Play-Off S-F
Hopefully Stewart will be celebrating tonight!
Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Of course, if we do line up like this – and if Broadhead is fit – it gives us some great options from the bench. As well as Broadhead, the likes of Roberts and Embleton can really help change the course of the game if need be, and I do think this is truly going to be a squad game tonight, rather than relying on the starting XI as we did for the majority of the game on Friday.

Hopefully, we’ll have one more of these to do this season.... HA’WAY THE LADS!


Pause for thought


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