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Reading v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Starting XI: Who needs strikers? Is this how Sunderland will line up against Watford today?

A tough test lies await at Vicarage Road... how will Tony Mowbray line the Lads up today?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Tony Mowbray sprang a surprise on Wednesday by going to a back four, with summer signing Aje Alese deployed as a left back – and it looked a more ‘natural’ fit for the lads, with Roberts and Clarke revelling in the freedom and space this allowed them.

Of course, we had to cope with the loss of Ellis Simms too. Simms had been out of sorts for a few weeks, but had started the game brightly. Thankfully his injury doesn’t seem too serious, so will he be back in the starting XI today? Here’s how I think we’ll line up.

Goalkeeper: Anthony Patterson

Patterson is growing and growing in confidence this season and is developing into an excellent keeper.

True, he had little to do on Wednesday, but he dealt with everything he had to assuredly.

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

Defence: Lynden Gooch, Luke O’Nien, Danny Batth, Aje Alese

Bailey Wright missed out on the game on Wednesday due to personal reasons, and if he’d been available to Tony Mowbray he may well have lined up in the starting XI.

However, Aje Alese came in at left back and had a superb game. He was assured on the ball, got up and down the pitch, and defended really well too.

Bar a half-paced League Cup game, we’ve not seen much of Alese yet, and early signs were excellent.

The rest of the defence looked solid too – Luke O’Nien has really done well in defence since Ballard’s injury, and is looking the part alongside Danny Batth – another whose just quietly getting on with his job and turning in some really consistent displays.

Reading v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Alese had a superb full league debut for us on Wednesday
Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images

Midfield: Corry Evans, Dan Neil, Elliot Embleton

Elliot Embleton replaced Ellis Simms on Wednesday, and immediately played an instrumental role in the performance.

Embleton’s a player who impresses and frustrates me in equal measure – he’s got a load of ability, has produced big moments in big games, but doesn’t always exert himself on the game as he perhaps could.

The way Mowbray was speaking about him after the game suggests maybe he’s the right manager for him, and hopefully this could be the start of Embleton really cementing a place in the team.

Alongside him, Dan Neil and Corry Evans will surely start – Neil grew into the game after a sloppy opening 15 minutes or so, while Evans has been another quietly consistent performer.

Reading v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Embleton played a key role from the bench on Wednesday
Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images

Attackers: Patrick Roberts, Alex Pritchard, Jack Clarke

While Tony Mowbray was relatively optimistic about Ellis Simms being fit for this afternoon’s game, I suspect we’ll see him on the bench at best. With the international break there’s little point in risking someone who’s not fit, particularly given how we performed without him.

With Pritchard leading the line and Roberts and Clarke on the wings – prompted by Embleton behind – we’ve got a very good goal threat despite not having a recognised striker.

Reading v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Alex Pritchard, Sunderland’s number 9
Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images


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