Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC Q&A: The major Ipswich Town selection decisions and a crucial run assessed

Sunderland return to League One action on Saturday against Ipswich Town, starting a crucial run of fixtures.

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 4:30 pm

In his weekly Q&A, Phil Smith addresses some of the big talking points..

How would you approach the Ipswich game if you were Lee Johnson in terms of team selection/tactics and system?

It’s going to be a high-pressure game so I think, within reason, Johnson needs as many of his ball-players in there as possible.

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Sunderland boss Lee Johnson

He said before the break that it’s a big chance to get Aiden McGeady up to peak fitness, and that could be crucial.

I would like to see Dan Neil and Elliot Embleton in there for similar reasons; they’ll show for the ball and play with intent in a way that you need in these games.

The biggest dilemmas are probably as to whether you go with Corry Evans and Luke O’Nien, or play an extra playmaker.

If fit, I’d be tempted to go with Alex Pritchard for the reasons outlined above.

The full backs essentially pick themselves due to injury but there’s big calls to be made at centre-back.

I felt Callum Doyle perhaps needed a break after the Sheffield Wednesday game, but I loved his personality in trying to be aggressive and turn the game around against Mansfield when brought on at half time just a few days later.

Sunderland need experience there, but they also need composure in possession if they’re to produce the kind of performance we saw on home turf early in the season.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a more experienced player comes in alongside Dennis Cirkin.

Who do you think will start in goal this weekend and will Broadhead partner Stewart?

I expect Thorben Hoffmann will retain his place.

He had a good game against Bradford City, and made one superb save in the last minute to take it to a penalty shootout.

Lee Burge has been excellent in the cups but had a tough afternoon against Mansfield Town.

There’s definitely competition there but Hoffmann will likely continue for now.

Up front is a tough one.

Johnson is really keen to play them together, and I think we will definitely see that during a tough schedule.

Whether Saturday is the day, I’m not so sure. Ipswich are in decent form and Johnson might want to match them up in midfield, where they have really good quality.

How much pressure do you think Lee Johnson is under? This seems like a crucial run of games coming up and reports today suggest he needs results.

It’s definitely an important period.

I think there will be an admission behind the scenes that with a young squad there were always going to be bumps in the road. This remains a long-term project and any decisions will be made with that in mind.

The recent performance levels have been very concerning, but at the moment will be set against a very encouraging start to the season.

The expectation is without a doubt to win promotion this season, and so there will be a demand to see results and performances get back up to that level.

Johnson has said he expects form to turn very quickly now he’s had a chance to get players back up to top sharpness, and that will definitely be the expectation.

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