Sunderland AFC verdict: Our writers on the big team and tactical dilemmas facing Jack Ross ahead of Gillingham

Tactics and team selection have dominated the agenda at Sunderland in recent weeks with the club struggling to turn draws into much-needed wins.

Monday, 18th February 2019, 7:46 am
Updated Monday, 18th February 2019, 7:52 am
Will Grigg misses a chance against Accrington Stanley.

Should Jack Ross continue with Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke? Should Luke O’Nien start at right-back over Adam Matthews?

Which is the best centre-back pairing? And who should Ross partner in central midfield?

Will Grigg misses a chance against Accrington Stanley.

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

With all that in mind, our Sunderland AFC writers Phil Smith and Richard Mennear select the system and starting XI they’d like to see Ross name for the visit of Gillingham on Tuesday night.

Phil Smith:

4-2-3-1: McLaughlin; Matthews, Flanagan, Dunne, James; McGeouch, Cattermole; Watmore, Maguire, McGeady; Grigg

Sunderland’s defensive problems on Friday night were a concern and so it might well be time to go back to basics in that sense and keep things simple.

Jack Baldwin commits a foul in the draw with Accrington Stanley.

Grant Leadbitter has done well in midfield but three games in seven days might be a bridge too far given how little football he has played this season.

His composure on the ball is important, though, and so if he does sit out it would be good to see Dylan McGeouch get the chance to replace him.

Chris Maguire has to start after his heroics the other night and Duncan Watmore’s pace in that ‘half and half’ role would be welcome.

Aiden McGeady doesn’t seem to be a player who needs a rest every now and then but if he does, Lewis Morgan is a natural replacement.

Sunderland boss Jack Ross.

Richard Mennear:

4-2-3-1: McLaughlin, Matthews, Dunne, Flanagan, James, Leadbitter, Honeyman, Watmore, Maguire, McGeady, Grigg.

Firstly, Ross needs to ditch the 4-4-2 system and stick to his guns that 4-2-3-1 is the best system for this group of players. Will Grigg, for one, prefers to play in that system.

This team selection is perhaps harsh on Luke O’Nien. But sorting out the defence is a key priority for Sunderland after the team’s shambolic defending against Accrington Stanley, Jimmy Dunne and Jack Baldwin the main culprits.

Restore Adam Matthews in his full-back role and replace Jack Baldwin - at fault for three goals this week - with Tom Flanagan.

Provided Grant Leadbitter is fit enough to start after a busy week, his assists and set piece delivery have proved key. Play skipper George Honeyman alongside him in a two-man midfield to provide some energy and mobility in front of the back four.

Duncan Watmore should be fit to start after being rested against Accrington Stanley, his runs into the channel and pace frighten defenders at this level. His end product needs to improve but you saw his threat against Blackpool.

Chris Maguire must start after his cameo against Stanley, while Aiden McGeady is enjoying his best season in front of goal.

Grigg has endured a difficult start and missed three sitters but his movement is good and at the very least he is in the right position. Surely it will click for him soon as he builds match fitness.

Ross, also, must settle on a preferred team sooner rather than later with only 15 games left and the automatic promotion spots no nearer their grasp.