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Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light

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Starting XI: Sheff Utd v SAFC – who’ll replace Ballard at the heart of Sunderland’s defence?

Same again – bar Dan Ballard – for the lads tonight? Or will Alex Neil try something different?

Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Saturday’s game was a really strange one, but after the dust has settled I think it’s one of those we win 999/1000. Yes, we maybe should have managed the game a little better, but we’re up against far better sides than we’ve played for a while and in reality there are very long odds on a free kick like that and a keeper scoring in the last few moments. Far from ideal, but not too much to be concerned about.

By far the biggest blow was Dan Ballard’s injury. The former Arsenal defender has been excellent since his arrival, and is going to miss a decent chunk of the campaign through injury.

Alex Neil explained Luke O’Nien as Ballard’s replacement well, however I do wonder whether he’ll be tempted to revert to a back four tonight to give us a bit more defensive solidity.

If he did, however, that would mean either leaving us a bit open in midfield with a four, or dropping one of the strikers, which I just can’t see happening, so my feeling is we’ll go into the game with a back three - however, we might potentially see a more defensive wing back set up.

Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson

Patterson could probably have done a little more with the equaliser on Saturday – he was a caught a little bit in between attacking the ball and sticking on his line, and ultimately we conceded an undeserved equaliser. Other than that, he did well – and will face a tough test again tonight.

Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship
Patterson did well overall on Saturday, but maybe could have done a little better with the second goal
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Defence: Bailey Wright, Danny Batth, Luke O’Nien

Alex Neil explained Luke O’Nien replacing Dan Ballard well on Saturday – logically, it made sense, and O’Nien did well alongside Batth and Cirkin. However, I feel Bailey Wright will start tonight to give us a bit more stability, and Cirkin could be pushed out to wing back to give us a bit more defensive stability on the left-hand side, after we were pretty exposed there in our last away game at Bristol City. If we play that line-up, O’Nien will likely be on the left of central defender Batth.

Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Carabao Cup - First Round - Hillsborough
Could Bailey Wright come into the team tonight?
Photo by Isaac Parkin/PA Images via Getty Images

Midfield: Lynden Gooch, Corry Evans, Dan Neil, Alex Pritchard, Dennis Cirkin

Alex Neil highlighted Sheffield United’s midfield three as a particular strength in his press conference on Tuesday, and we’ll likely try to match them up in there. If Ballard hadn’t been injured, O’Nien could have been a shout in here for his tenacity, but I think the only change in this area will be Cirkin pushing up and Jack Clarke potentially dropping out of the starting XI. Clarke’s done really well so far this season, but I just think we’ll get exposed if he starts at wingback tonight.

Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship
Could Cirkin play wingback tonight?
Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Attackers: Ellis Simms, Ross Stewart

Alex Neil spoke in the press conference too about Simms and Stewart, and the shape of the team being dictated to a large extent by the players available and performing. Simms and Stewart are doing just that – five goals in two games between them – and while others need to get among the goals, the SAS are currently carrying the load.

Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship
Can Simms notch another tonight?
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images


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