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Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship

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How will Sunderland’s selection headache at the back be resolved by the manager?

With both Dan Ballard and Luke O’Nien suspended this afternoon, Tony Mowbray has a big decision to make ahead of the visit of Wayne Rooney’s Birmingham City.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Tony Mowbray didn’t seem too happy with his first choice central defensive pair after the draw at Swansea last time out.

Cutting a frustrated figure during his post-match comments, Mowbray questioned his side’s game management after both Luke O’Nien and Dan Ballard received yellow cards from the man in the middle to earn themselves a ban - despite the pair rarely being challenged.

The seemingly logical view, from a fans’ perspective, would be to play both Jenson Seelt and Nectarios Triantis; the pair are the only two senior available centre-backs that Mowbray has to hand. It keeps balance in the team and would allow us to play a conventional back four, giving responsibility to two promising defenders.

Seelt was acquired from Eredivisie giants PSV during in the summer, and like many of Sunderland’s signings nowadays, came with an exciting profile.

The Dutchman picked up an unfortunate injury in a pre-season game against North Carolina FC and didn’t feature for the Black Cats again until an Under-21 game against Manchester United, where he was a part of a defence that conceded five goals in the first half.

Leicester City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Luke O’Nien and Dan Ballard are unavailable for today’s clash with Birmingham City
Photo by Stephen White - CameraSport via Getty Images

At his new club, Seelt has played a total of 74 minutes so far this season, 61 of which came in a torrid afternoon against Middlesbrough in October.

Triantis has been playing Under-21’s football almost exclusively this season and, although he dominates every attacker at that level, doesn’t seem to be trusted by Mowbray just yet.

His only senior appearance so far came in Carabao Cup defeat to Crewe Alexandra, where he played the full 90 minutes and scored his penalty! Other than that appearance, the Aussie has been waiting in the wings and today could present the perfect opportunity for him to impress his manager.

It’s never quite as simple as that, though, is it? You only have to go back as far as last season to see that Mowbray, seemingly, doesn’t trust inexperienced members of the squad to be deployed in the in the heart of his defence.

Despite this, during his time at Blackburn, he had great success with Jan Paul van Hecke and Ashley Phillips, who couldn’t exactly be described as two old heads at the back.

Sunderland v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship
Is it unlikely we’ll see both Jenson Seelt and Nectarios Triantis in the Sunderland starting XI ahead of today’s game?
Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

However, it was Lynden Gooch, Trai Hume, O’Nien and Dennis Cirkin who made up our back four for the last few weeks of last season, whilst 6’2 Joe Anderson sat on the bench. You would imagine that something similar will happen this weekend as, realistically, Mowbray isn’t going to give two full debuts to central defenders.

Triantis will, at the very least, start the game on the bench, where he is likely to witness a back four of Hume, Seelt, Cirkin and Huggins compete against the very talented Jay Stansfield and Siriki Dembele, wondering what he can do to get a spot in the starting XI.

Birmingham are not a bad team and they have the players to go direct or they have the players to play through teams. If Sunderland play with one central defender, which they possibly will, Blues should absolutely be finding a way to fit Lukas Jutkiewicz into their team on Saturday. No matter how poor he has been so far this season, the veteran striker would cause chaos for Sunderland, who really struggle to defend crosses into the box.

Only three teams have a better defensive record than Sunderland so far this season, and today will offer up a huge challenge for a very young team.


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