Jack Ross' selection dilemma: Our Sunderland writers assess team and system Cats boss will deploy against Doncaster Rovers
Sunderland welcome Doncaster Rovers to the Stadium of Light tonight with Jack Ross facing some major selection issues.
The chaotic nature of the 5-4 defeat at home to Coventry City left more questions than answers for the Sunderland boss.
The biggest selection call will come in central defence, does Ross keep faith with Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin, both of who endured nightmare afternoons or look to bring in the likes of Jimmy Dunne, Alim Ozturk or Glenn Loovens.
Sunderland were far too open against the Sky Blues, the defence cut open with little protection in front of them so Ross must also decide which formation to go with.
Our team of Sunderland AFC writers examine the big talking points and pick the side and formation they would like to see Ross deploy against Rovers tonight.
4-2-3-1: McLaughlin; O’Nien, Ozturk, Dunne, Oviedo; Leadbitter, Cattermole, Morgan, Honeyman, McGeady, Wyke
The biggest call Jack Ross has to make is of course at centre-back and whichever way he goes, it’s a gamble.
On the face of it, picking Ozturk and Dunne together, a partnership who have never played side-by-side, and with Ozturk having not played since January, would be an almighty roll of the dice.
It seems unlikely Ross will go that far.
Still, it would be a gamble to play either Flanagan or Baldwin after the Coventry City defeat.
Should either of them get the nod, it will be a big test of their mental resolve and also their physical condition after what has been a punishing season.
Flanagan, in particular, has battled through this campaign when Sunderland’s options have been limited and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
One option of course would be to go to three at the back, particularly convincing given that month Aiden McGeady and Chris Maguire are likely to have to settle for a place on the bench at best.
Too much upheaval would surely be detrimental, and this XI relies on the return of Lee Cattermole to help Grant Leadbitter do what he does best, always screening the centre-backs and giving them an option on the ball.
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That leaves one big decision, who to play up front.
Charlie Wyke cannot be dropped given his recent form and given both the fixture list and Will Grigg’s ankle issues, it seems wise to give him a brief breather.
3-5-2: McLaughlin; O’Nien, Flanagan, Ozturk, Dunne, Oviedo, Leadbitter, Cattermole, Honeyman, Grigg, Wyke.
Sunderland’s strongest starting XI isn’t suited to a wing-back system as it wouldn’t suit the best player, Aiden McGeady.
Or Chris Maguire for that matter but given those two are likely to start on the bench as McGeady hasn’t been training and Maguire is only making his way back from a leg fracture, then Ross could consider a change of formation.
Given the chaotic nature of the defeat to Coventry City it would be no surprise to see Ross ditch one or both of Jack Baldwin and Tom Flanagan, their confidence must have been affected.
The system was partly at fault given Sunderland were wide open with little shielding in front of the two centre backs.
A strong option would be to switch to a back three, the wing back system would certainly suit Luke O’Nien and Bryan Oviedo, who are always keen to get forward and provide width.
Jimmy Dunne seems a certain starter and Alim Ozturk is in the running to come back in from the cold after impressing in training. Glenn Loovens hasn’t played since seeing red against Portsmouth before Christmas and it would surely be a major gamble to throw him.
So, an outside bet may be a back three of Dunne, Ozturk and Flanagan over Baldwin, though there is little between the pair.
The system would allow Lee Cattermole to sit alongside Grant Leadbitter, with skipper George Honeyman providing the link between midfield and attack.
It would rely on O’Nien and Oviedo doing the leg work, but it would also mean Ross could continue with his Will Grigg/Charlie Wyke partnership, the pair hitting the goal trail post-Wembley.
Grigg has been playing through the pain barrier with his ankle injury but with only five games to go and Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes in the balance, the Black Cats need him.