Sunderland's League One promotion push: Five key issues and selection headaches facing Jack Ross
Following the draw with Luton Town, the Sunderland squad has a welcome respite from a gruelling schedule with no mid-week fixture.
Since the end of November there has only been one other week when Jack Ross’ side haven’t been in either League One, FA Cup or Checkatrade Trophy midweek action.
It has been a demanding run, the added bonus of making it to the Checkatrade quarter finals adding further pressure.
The club’s league form has stuttered of late with three draws and a defeat in the last six league games.
Not that Jack Ross has ever used the schedule as an excuse, the busy festive period is, after all, the same for all clubs.
Yet a breather for the players and more time on the training pitch will be welcome.
Ahead of the weekend trip to Scunthorpe United, we examine the key issues facing Ross as Sunderland aim to breath fresh life into their promotion push.
To move Luke O’Nien back into midfield?
O’Nien has been a revelation at right-back following Adam Matthews’ absence through injury, the star performer over the festive period.
Matthews returned to the squad against Luton as a sub and Ross now has a decision to make.
To keep things as they are or consider moving O’Nien into his natural central midfield role and bring Matthews back into the fold.
At least Ross has options.
To recall Lee Cattermole?
Cattermole has served his two game ban after picking up 10 yellow cards and Ross must decide whether to bring him straight back in, Max Power and Dylan McGeouch having started against Luton.
Skipper George Honeyman remains a big doubt with an ongoing ankle injury.
Ross has decisions to make over the best combination in central midfield with Sunderland suffering from a lack of pace and physicality in there this season. And the need to better link midfield and attack.
How to get the best out of Charlie Wyke?
Wyke is a grafter, no doubt. He does, however, look rusty following a lengthy spell on the sidelines, understandably so, but Sunderland need him firing, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding the future of Josh Maja.
Wyke will only regain his rhythm by playing but he needs to sharpen up and Sunderland need to make better use of him, get bodies closer to him for knockdowns etc.
The Maja situation aside, Ross still wants to sign another striker this month and the need is clear with Sunderland too heavily reliant on the 15-goal top scorer.
Sunderland have taken the lead in their last two games but twice been pegged back and made to pay for not being ruthless or clinical enough and had to settle for a point, key points dropped in the fight for promotion.
To keep faith with Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin?
The pair have been Jack Ross’ first choice pairing but the loan capture of Jimmy Dunne from Burnley has bolstered options.
Dunne was on the bench against Luton with Flanagan and Baldwin coping well with the threat of Danny Hylton and James Collins, until a dubious penalty call.
A lack of physicality in the centre of defence has been an issue this season, hence why Ross wanted another option.
Make better use of set pieces.
Sunderland did score twice from corners in the 4-0 Checkatrade Trophy win over Newcastle United, Chris Maguire with both assists.
Yet, that was a rarity this season.
Regular watchers will be aware of the need to improve the threat from corners. Too often teams easily defend them.