Luke O'Nien, Nathan Broadhead and Frederik Alves dilemmas: Our Sunderland writers deliver verdicts on who should start against Ipswich

Sunderland boss Lee Johnson has some big decisions to make ahead of this weekend’s League One clash against promotion rivals Ipswich Town – with the Black Cats desperate to revive their promotion challenge.

Thursday, 18th November 2021, 4:45 pm

Following three consecutive league defeats and a postponed fixture due to international call-ups, Sunderland have slipped out of the play-off places in League One – albeit with games in hand.

Ahead of the game against Ipswich, our SAFC writers Phil Smith and Joe Nicholn discuss who they think should start against Ipswich:

Goalkeeper

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Phil Smith: Hoffmann

“Lee Burge has done really well when called upon in the cups for the most part, despite a difficult afternoon against Mansfield.

"I'd still stick with Thorben Hoffmann for the time being, though.

"I don't think he was particularly at fault across the poor run of league games, aside from one or two moments of erratic distribution.

Nathan Broadhead playing for Sunderland.

"He looked good against albeit limited opposition in Bradford City, making some good saves and commanding his box well.”

Joe Nicholson: Hoffmann

“Obviously there will be questions asked when the side has conceded eight goals in their last two league games, but I don’t think Hoffmann has been the primary issue.

"The German does appear to have lost a bit of confidence when trying to play out from the back in recent matches, but so have the defenders in front of him.

"There is competition in the goalkeeping department with Lee Burge fighting for a recall, but the 28-year-old made a costly error against Mansfield in the FA Cup.

“I still think Hoffmann is the best option at the moment.”

Defence

Phil Smith: Winchester, Flanagan, Doyle, Cirkin

"I thought this was actually the toughest part of the pitch to settle on.

"It's also probably a bit hypocritical, because I felt that after Sheffield Wednesday Callum Doyle maybe looked like he could do with a bit of a breather.

"But the cup defeat to Mansfield Town showed why he's so important. It wasn't his best game, but after being brought on at half time he at least showed that willingness to try and play with a real tempo.

"I do increasingly feel Johnson needs another option at the back, whether that be Arbenit Xhemajli's return in the long term, or a January recruit.

"If Sunderland's poor form continues, then Frederik Alves has to be given a chance in the league, but it would be a big call to field a new partnership against strong opposition.

"It also seems fairly clear that Johnson wants to see a bit more from Alves.”

Joe Nicholson: Winchester, Flanagan, Doyle, Cirkin

"I think the importance of this game means Johnson will stick with his recognised back four.

"There are limited options at full-back anyway, due to injuries to Denver Hume and Niall Huggins, placing more importance on Carl Winchester and Dennis Cirkin.

"At centre-back, Johnson could bring in Frederik Alves who has been steady in the cup games.

Yet clearly there are reservations about the Dane, with Johnson saying he wants to see more from the defender in possession.

"Sunderland need a result against Ipswich and it would be a risk to experiment with a new defensive partnership.

“Callum Doyle and Tom Flanagan formed a promising partnership at the start of the season and will need to revive that.

Central Midfield

Phil Smith: Evans, Neil

“Ipswich have a talented, technical midfield and so I'd be tempted to go with the two best ball-playing options in this position.

"Luke O'Nien has had some really effective games on home turf this year, but struggled a bit for form before the international break.

"This is a difficult one as Johnson is rightly concerned about ensuring his side is physically up to the challenge, and O'Nien is one of his best options in that regard.

"That might work to his advantage.”

Joe Nicholson: O’Nien, Neil

“Sunderland started with three central midfielders against Sheffield Wednesday – a tactic which worked in the Carabao Cup game at QPR but backfired at Hillsborough.

"Dan Neil has been a standout performer this season and looks likely to start alongside either Luke O’Nien or Corry Evans.

"Clearly we are yet to see the best of Evans due to injury setbacks, and the club captain has struggled since returning to the side.

"While O’Nien has also underperformed in recent weeks, he brings a bit more physicality to the team and has built up more of an understanding with Neil this season.”

Attacking Midfield / Striker

Phil Smith: Embleton, Broadhead, McGeady, Stewart

“Embleton is a threat off the right, even if it's not his best position.

"I loved the goal against Bradford, a rare moment of quality where his terrific through ball was emphatically finished by Broadhead.

"Although it's a big risk against a good side, you wonder if it's time to try and get back on the front foot and playing Broadhead off Stewart is definitely one way to do that.

"I do think this is one area of the pitch where conditioning will play a big part, though.

“Ipswich are a threat and there will be a real need for the wingers to get back and support their full backs.

"Johnson is hopeful that McGeady will be back to peak fitness after a welcome time to work on the training pitch following his recent injury.

“That will be key for Sunderland.”

Joe Nicholson: Embleton, Pritchard, McGeady, Stewart

"Johnson has been looking for a way to fit Elliot Embleton and Alex Pritchard into the same side, but the problem has been that one of them has often been unavailable due to injury or suspension.

“While Embleton has performed better though the middle, he can also operate on the right where he can still help create chances for Ross Stewart.

"Sunderland will also need Aiden McGeady to rediscover his form following his red card and subsequent one-game suspension at Rotherham.”

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