Wednesday’s game was always going to be a tough test, but I think we came through it with some credit. If we’d had a striker available we would have certainly have made a dent on the scoresheet, and you’ve got to think that striking reinforcements are very high on the priority list at the Academy of Light.
This is the third of six first-team pre-season games, and I would think that some players who’ve not seen too much action so far will get a run out this afternoon.
Pre-season is all about getting fitness levels right, as well as our game plan, so we’ll keep a track of how the lads are doing in terms of getting minutes in their legs. Bailey Wright’s been absent from the bench so far (hence his absence from the table below), so he could well get a run-out today.
It’ll be interesting to see what Neil does in terms of formation today. With the signing of Alese, we’ve got four very good centre-backs, plus the likes of Winchester and O’Nien who can comfortably play there. I do think we’ll start the season in a 4-2-3-1 shape, but we saw last season Neil is happy to go to a five when needed, so for this reason – plus the fact that Cirkin is still our only fit left back and has started both games so far – I wouldn't be at all surprised if we began something like this today.
Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson
It’s getting to the stage now that Adam Richardson or Jacob Carney will need some game time, just in case... but I think Patterson will start. However, don’t be surprised if one of the two understudies gets a second-half run-out.
Centre backs: Daniel Ballard, Bailey Wright, Aji Alese
Bailey Wright hasn’t clocked up a minute of pre-season action yet, so I’d expect him to feature today unless he’s carrying an injury that we’re unaware of. Alongside him, Daniel Ballard should come back into the team, and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Alese line up from the off. To be fair, he’s probably quite far along in terms of fitness – he’s started both of West Ham’s first-team friendlies so far – but I think he’ll get 45 minutes to help him settle into his new surroundings.
Wing backs: Trai Hume, Lynden Gooch
Hume started the game against Rangers and did pretty well, while Gooch did likewise against Roma. Wing back probably suits both players a little better than fullback, given their attacking instincts, and the pair could line up either side of the defence today. The fact we’re even considering Gooch at left wing back shows we maybe still need a bit of depth there, but he showed last season he can do a job in that position.
Midfield: Corry Evans, Luke O’Nien
O’Nien’s game on Wednesday game to an abrupt end when he was substituted at Jose’s behest, so he’ll probably start again to get another hour or so into his legs. Alongside him I would expect Corry Evans to return.
Attackers: Patrick Roberts, Alex Pritchard, Jack Clarke
With Ross Stewart carrying an injury I’d be surprised to see him risked today. He’s so important to us, and while there are rumours about Troy Parrott and Nathan Broadhead arriving soon, at present, he’s our only striker. So I suspect Alex Neil will tread carefully here.
Patrick Roberts and Alex Pritchard should come back into the team today, and we could see Jack Clarke starting through the middle – although all three could rotate to pretty good effect.