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Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Starting XI: Stoke City v Sunderland – Will Luke O’Nien return to the centre of midfield?

With Corry Evans doubtful and Dan Neil suspended, Alex Neil is running short on midfield options...

Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

It’s a strange feeling, gaining confidence after a defeat – but after time to reflect on Wednesday’s defeat to Sheffield United, that’s exactly how I’m feeling. We’ve shown we can compete well with a team that should comfortably be top six, and bar a silly error from Dan Neil we would surely have taken something from the game.

I’ve seen a lot of criticism for Dan Neil after his red card, which I find really bizarre. The lad made a mistake – who hasn’t – and his sending off was an instinctive reaction. It wasn’t malicious or stupid, it was instinct – and he was having a great game prior to that.

His ban leaves Alex Neil scratching around a bit in midfield, particularly given Corry Evans is doubtful for the game. So, who’ll replace Dan Neil?

All’s not well at Stoke, and I think we’ll go at them from the off in an attempt to break their fragile confidence – here’s how I think we’ll line up this afternoon.


Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson

There were maybe a few question marks around Patterson for Sheffield United’s first goal on Wednesday (the defence was more culpable, I reckon) but he pulled off a string of cracking saves later on. Patterson’s showing exactly what I would expect of any young player making his breakthrough – some real areas of quality and some others that need work. We know crosses can be a weakness for him – we saw it last season too, so it’s nothing new – It’s going to be interesting to see both how he develops over the coming months with the new goalkeeping coach and if Alex Neil goes for a more experienced back up before the window shuts. Quite rightly, however, Patterson’s currently the first choice, and I think he’s improving by the game.

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Defence: Luke O’Nien, Danny Batth, Dennis Cirkin

Luke O’Nien did well on the right of defence but was shifted into midfield for the last part of the game on Wednesday – and again, he did well there, too. Danny Batth was withdrawn with a groin injury as a precaution, but Neil said in his press conference yesterday he was fit for today, which is a relief. On the left of defence, Dennis Cirkin will line up – he’s becoming Mr Reliable there, and is a player I think has real quality. I’d prefer to see him as an orthodox left back, and I’m sure that’s where we’ll play him longer term.

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
O’Nien turned in a good performance in defence, although he was maybe fortunate not to see red for a poor late challenge.
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Midfield: Lynden Gooch, Jay Matete, Elliot Embleton, Alex Pritchard, Jack Clarke

A particular bright spot on Wednesday was the performance of Jay Matete, who came on and had a real influence on the game from the centre of midfield. I really like Matete as a player – he’s tenacious, can carry the ball up the pitch, and has bags of energy. Like any young lad, his performance levels are going to fluctuate – he was really poor at Sheffield Wednesday, for example – but he should get the chance to start today. Elliot Embleton and Alex Pritchard are nailed-on starters; Embleton’s got a real chance to establish himself in the team at the moment, while on the wings Gooch and Clarke are making those positions their own too. I do feel sorry for Patrick Roberts – he’s a player I love watching and isn’t getting a sniff at present – but the shape of the team means opportunities are severely limited.

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Matete impressed on Wednesday and should start today
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Attackers: Ellis Simms, Ross Stewart

Ross Stewart was fantastic on Wednesday – he does so much work off the ball and is integral to how we play, beside his goals. Simms had a more difficult game against Sheffield United than he’d had in his previous two. I thought he looked a bit tired and the ball was bouncing off him a bit more than it had done previously. However, he’s a huge threat and will probably start as we look to take the game to Stoke from the off.

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
A class act
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

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