Sunderland v Lincoln City: These are the teams our SAFC writers would pick for crunch play-off clash against Lincoln City

Sunderland host Lincoln City at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon (KO 3.30pm) looking to overturn a 2-0 deficit in the play-off semi-final.

Saturday, 22nd May 2021, 11:00 am

Here, our team of Sunderland writers deliver their verdicts on who should start and the approach head coach Lee Johnson should take.

Phil Smith – ‘Grant Leadbitter is definitely the one who I would be bringing back into the side’

It's very hard to make a call either on what team will play, or what team should play.

Sign up to our Sunderland AFC newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Which Sunderland team will Lee Johnson select?

I do think therein lies a bit of a problem.

COVID-19 and the impact it has had on the schedule this season has demanded big squads, but at times it feels like Sunderland have become a bit muddled.

Compare that to Lincoln City, for example, who have a really strong identity and probably one really find themselves debating one or two positions in the team.

Injuries of course have been a massive factor in that but however this season ends, you hope Sunderland can move closer to having that kind of clarity in what they're doing.

In the interim, I think Grant Leadbitter definitely is the one who I would be bringing back into the side for Saturday afternoon.

Clearly Sunderland have to be attacking and they have to go after the game, but Lincoln's counter-attacking threat is their main asset and if the Black Cats over-commit early on, the tie is finished.

So I'm going for a balanced starting XI, in the hope that it gives Sunderland's wide players time and space to thrive.

It also means that in the latter stages, you have the option to quickly drop in more attacking options like Chris Maguire.SAFC XI: Burge; Power, Wright, O'Nien, McFadzean; Leadbitter, Winchester, Scowen; Gooch, McGeady, Wyke

Mark Donnelly: ‘Don't expect a gung ho side, given the well-known threats of the Imps’

If one positive can be taken from the first leg, it's that Sunderland know exactly what they need to do at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon.

They need to win by at least two goals, ideally three, or their promotion hopes are over.

It sounds simple enough, but the task facing the Black Cats is a big one - particularly when you consider the strength of Lincoln City away from home.

Lee Johnson will know his side need to play on the front foot and an early goal would undoubtedly be a major help.

But there is a careful balance that needs to be struck.

Lincoln are strong on the break and they could pick-off Sunderland if they adopt an all-out attack mentality.

I would be tempted to opt for a 3-4-3 shape, with Grant Leadbitter returning in the midfield. That would allow Johnson to get a number of his attacking players on the field from the off, while also ensuring that there is a steady and stable defensive base from which to build.

Sunderland's squad depth could allow them to make a number of changes and it would be little surprise to see the likes of Jack Diamond and Ross Stewart given opportunities given how vital goals are.

But don't expect a gung ho side, given the well-known threats of the Imps.

SAFC XI (3-4-3): Burge; O'Nien, Flanagan, Wright; Diamond, Power, Leadbitter, Gooch; McGeady, Maguire, Wyke

A message from the Football Clubs Editor

Our aim is to provide you with the best, most up-to-date and most informative Sunderland AFC coverage 365 days a year.

This depth of coverage costs, so to help us maintain the high-quality reporting that you are used to, please consider taking out a subscription to our new sports-only package here.

Your support is much appreciated. Richard Mennear, Football Clubs Editor