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Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Starting XI: Who replaces Ross Stewart and Dennis Cirkin? And will we see a formation change?

After an unexpected week and a half break, the lads return to action against Paul Ince’s Reading. How will the time off, plus injuries to Stewart and Cirkin, have influenced Tony Mowbray’s thinking?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Patrick Roberts was drafted in as a last-minute replacement for Ross Stewart last time out, and a lack of a direct replacement for our talisman meant a change in shape as well as personnel.

If Stewart’s injury had occurred a few days earlier, I think we might have seen a change in shape to a back four – and that might have been an option heading into tonight’s game, had Dennis Cirkin not picked up an injury too.

So, how will we line up tonight? It’s going to tell us a lot about Mowbray’s approach and what he’s learned about the players over recent weeks.

Here’s what I think he might do...

Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson

Patterson did well at Boro and will retain his place, barring any last minute hiccups...

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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

Cirkin’s loss is a big blow, but fortunately, it doesn’t look like he’ll miss too much action.

While Aje Alese is a more natural replacement for Cirkin, I think Mowbray will go with what experience we do have, and bring Bailey Wright in on the right side of Danny Batth, with Luke O’Nien switching over to the left.

This line up does allow us to easily revert to a four if needed, with O’Nien playing left back and Gooch dropping back on the right hand side.

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Will Bailey Wright return to the starting XI tonight?
Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Midfield: Lynden Gooch, Corry Evans, Dan Neil, Jack Clarke

I think it’ll be same again in midfield tonight, with Corry Evans and Dan Neil starting in the middle, and Gooch and Clarke playing in advanced wing back roles.

I do have concerns over Gooch and Clarke playing as our wing backs – Boro exploited their defensive weakness – but I think it’s a case of going from game to game at present until we get some players back and others up to speed.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Attackers: Patrick Roberts, Alex Pritchard, Ellis Simms

Patrick Roberts was chosen to replace Ross Stewart and took some time to settle into the game.

I like Roberts as a player, I think he’s tremendously talented, but he needs to play out wide – against the Boro he played more centrally and didn’t really look comfortable.

Pritchard’s the opposite - he’s far better in the middle – but I think we’ll see the two of them taking on more of the old ‘inside forward’ positions tonight rather than playing in the central third of the pitch as they did last week.

Through the middle it’ll surely be Simms – he’s hopefully benefited from a week’s rest.

Diallo will surely be on the bench too and he looked lively in his cameo last week, while I’d love to see Max Thompson, who signed from Burnley and has been on target at under 21 level, on the bench, too.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Will Simms get back to goalscoring form? We need him to!
Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images


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