Southend United v Sunderland AFC: The key selection issues for Jack Ross as Black Cats aim to finish strongly
Sunderland’s League One fate was sealed when Ashley Eastham powered home Fleetwood Town’s winner in the 95th minute, the lottery of the play-offs now awaits Jack Ross’ side.
Who Sunderland will face is yet to be determined ahead of the season finale away at Southend United this evening (KO 5.30pm).
Sunderland, currently fourth, could finish as high as third and as low as fifth, with Portsmouth (3rd), Charlton Athletic (5th) and Doncaster Rovers (6th) currently occupying the other positions.
For Southend, it’s do or die with Kevin Bond’s struggling fifth-bottom side likely to need a win to ensure their safety.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for the hosts.
For Sunderland, they will want to finish as high as possible to secure a home game in the second leg of the play-off semi-final, while there is the pressing need to regain some momentum heading into a pivotal month.
We examine the key selection issues facing Ross - with the chance for some fringe players to stake a play-off claim.
Who replaces Aiden McGeady?
McGeady is almost certain to miss the trip to Roots Hall as the club manages his ongoing fractured foot, keeping him fresh and fit for the play-offs is absolutely key given his goals and impact.
Lynden Gooch was given the nod for the Fleetwood trip but he didn’t have much impact, plenty of endeavour but little end product.
Ross’ other options out wide are limited so it may be that Gooch gets the nod again, with Lewis Morgan a nailed on starter on the other flank.
Other options would be bringing George Honeyman back into the starting line-up, out wide, or pushing Bryan Oviedo further forward with either Adam Matthews or Denver Hume coming in at left-back. Unlikely.
An outside bet would be handing Kaz Sterling a start in an unfamiliar wide position.
To keep faith with Will Grigg?
Charlie Wyke has turned his Sunderland career around in recent weeks, scoring three and providing three assists in six games before picking up a dead leg against Portsmouth.
It caused him to miss the trip to Fleetwood.
Wyke could prove to be a key player in the play-offs so it would do harm to rest him against Southend, with Will Grigg again handed a chance to impress.
The £4million striker is struggling for form but Ross needs him firing for the tension-filled play-offs.
Who replaces Lee Cattermole in the middle?
Jack Ross is limited in terms of how many changes he can make for the season finale but one change could see Lee Cattermole rested.
That would open the door for George Honeyman or Grant Leadbitter to come back into the side after a spell out or Dylan McGeouch - who starred against Accrington Stanley and Rochdale - before picking up an injury.
McGeouch can count himself unlucky this season having impressed in spurts before either being dropped or picking up injuries.
Plenty to ponder for Ross & Co.