Six crucial fitness and selection dilemmas that Sunderland & Charlton Athletic will have to weigh up this week

Sunderland and Charlton will be starting to step up their play-off final preparations this week after the dust settled on their semi final triumphs.

By Phil Smith
Monday, 20 May, 2019, 12:02
Lee Bowyer will be weighing up the fitness of striker Igor Vetokele this week

Both sides have almost fully fit and settled sides, but there will be a few big decisions for Jack Ross and Lee Bowyer to make in the coming days...

WILL AIDEN McGEADY BE FIT?

The Irishman beeds a prolonged period of rest after suffering a broken bone in his foot against Accrington Stanley earlier in the campaign.

Painkilling injections had carried him through for a while but failed to take affect ahead of the first leg.

Ross hopes, though, that the rest could see him play a part at Wembley.

"No, he will have a chance of the final," Ross said.

“The fact the first leg was Saturday and the final isn’t for another week gives him that extended break again, that was another incentive for us to get through to the final knowing that we could potentially have a player of his quality back available.

“We will assess it in the week leading up to the final.”

If fit, his selection is surely certain.

The winger is vital to Sunderland's preferred style of play and proved in the Checkatrade Trophy final that he is someone who can thrive on the big stage.

The Black Cats coped superbly in his absence during the semi final but will feel far more confident if he can be passed fit this week.

WILL IGOR VETOKELE BE FIT?

Charlton Athletic, like Sunderland, have a mostly fit squad available for the final.

Their big injury doubt is Igor Vetokele, who missed both semi final legs against Doncaster Rovers due to a thigh problem.

Vetokele has only five goals this season but looked in good form towards the end of the season, partnering well with Lyle Taylor. That was a significant boos to the Addicks given that the excellent Karlan Grant left for Huddersfield Town in January.

Josh Parker, signed on deadline day from Gillingham Town, has played in Vetokele's absence and is still searching for his first goal.

A good performance in the first leg against Grant McCann's side did make an impression, however.

"I’m happy to be in the team now," he told London News Online.

"It’s frustrating [needing to wait for a chance] but at the same time you have to enjoy being a part of it because I came into a team that was winning, winning, winning, so I couldn’t be knocking at the manager’s door saying that I want to be playing.

"I just have to enjoy it and any time that I’m given, make the most of it. Unfortunately, Igor got injured but for me it’s my chance to help the team to get towards the target.”

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

DOES BOWYER GO BACK TO HIS PREFERRED SYSTEM?

Bowyer sprung a surprise for the semi final by switching from the diamond formation that served his side so well over the regular season.

The Charlton boss went to a back five, dropping the impressive Krystian Bielik from defensive midfield into the heart of defence.

That was a specific ploy to counter Doncaster, who had troubled his side earlier in the season by leaving their wingers high up the pitch when Charlton had the ball.

It's a big question for Bowyer ahead of Sunday, particularly if McGeady is fit and Sunderland have their key players thriving in the wide areas.

Ross thinks his side are as good as anyone at working the ball out to the flanks and into dangerous positions, setting up a fascinating tactical battle.

WILL DUNCAN WATMORE BE PART OF THE SQUAD?

Ross has been thrilled with how fresh and confident Watmore has looked since returning to training from a nasty ankle injury.

He returned to the squad for the second leg at Fratton Park and though he did not make it onto the pitch, he seemed primed to be Sunderland's fourth sub if the game did to go to extra time.

Kazaiah Sterling has had more minutes of late but Watmore's Premier League experience means he surely has a great chance of being in the matchday 18.

From there, his pace on the break gives Ross a potential wildcard option from the bench.

WILL FORMER BLACK CAT START?

Jonny Williams feared the worst when he suffered a hamstring injury against Portsmouth in March, but as it happened he missed just a couple of weeks action and has managed to make 17 appearances since his loan move in January.

The talent of the Welsh midfielder has never been in question.

His quality in tight spaces on the ball makes him a real threat but in the semi final Bowyer used him as an impact substitute, bringing drive and energy.

He seems unlikely to play 90 or 120 minutes, so how Bowyer uses him could be key.

HOW DOES ROSS PICK HIS MIDFIELD?

Ross finally has something of a settled defence and should McGeady be fit, it is not a stretch to say that much of his team picks itself.

Even if he does not, Chris Maguire would likely take his place on the left.

The big question for Ross this week is whether the exceptional control and poise Grant Leadbitter and Lee Cattermole brought to the midfield at Fratton Park is worth replicating at Wembley.

Max Power has been in good form for a prolonged period now and the balance of the side will be key for Ross.