Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers at Wembley: Phil Smith and Mark Donnelly's team selection and score predictions ahead of Papa John's Trophy final

It's all eyes on Wembley for Sunderland - but Lee Johnson has some big decisions ahead of him.

Sunday, 14th March 2021, 10:00 am

With key players returning from injury, the head coach will have to decide whether to stick or twist in the Papa John's Trophy Final.

But what would our writers do, and how do they expect the clash with Tranmere to pan out? Here's the verdicts of Phil Smith and Mark Donnelly ahead of the big game:

PHIL SMITH

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Sunderland v Tranmere Rovers at Wembley: Phil Smith and Mark Donnelly's team selection and score predictions ahead of Papa John's Trophy final

It's only a week or so ago that Lee Johnson was wondering aloud how exactly he was going to fill his squad for this game.

Injuries in defensive areas were piling up and he had three cup-tied players to throw into the equation.

All of a sudden, Sunderland's squad is edging towards being as strong as it has been at any point over the campaign.

The dilemma for Lee Johnson is to assess who is ready to come straight back in on Sunday and who might need a little longer on the sidelines.

It is a big day for Sunderland, and don't underestimate the value of a Wembley win in building that momentum.

Even so, there's huge games on the horizon in the league and you don't want a key player suffering a recurrence.

For the most part, there doesn't seem to be much reason to overhaul things.

Sunderland are playing on the front foot but with good control, and the combination of Jordan Jones and Aiden McGeady is an exciting one.

Tranmere will be a difficult opponent, make no mistake. They were unlucky to go down last year and after a slow start, they're doing well under Keith Hill.

A big opportunity for Sunderland, of that there is no doubt, but it won't be straightforward by any stretch.

Sunderland XI: Burge; McLaughlin, Flanagan, O'Nien, McFadzean; Gooch, Power, Scowen, McGeady; O'Brien, Wyke

Prediction: 2-1 Sunderland

MARK DONNELLY

Sunderland arguably couldn't ask to be heading to Wembley in better shape.

Eight games unbeaten, three wins on the bounce and a host of key players returning to fitness. Things look to be falling into place for Lee Johnson ahead of a game which he will undoubtedly be desperate to win.

The Black Cats' biggest worries come in terms of selection. With Bailey Wright not set for a return this week, there's every chance that Luke O’Nien and Max Power could be handed a place in the backline given Dion Sanderson is ineligible.

Grant Leadbitter’s return is a boost and he will be able to return to midfield in place of the cup-tied Carl Winchester.

Further up-field, the team is pretty much picking itself - albeit Aiden O'Brien and Jordan Jones could now be doubts.

In Tranmere, Sunderland face a team in a rich vein of form and who have already dumped a number of higher-ranked sides out the competition this term.

The absence of James Vaughan will be felt, but the League Two side will no doubt ask some questions of their opponents across the afternoon.

And while this may not be as cut-and-dry as some people think, Sunderland should still have enough for Tranmere on the day

Predicted XI: Burge; Power, O’Nien, Flanagan, McFadzean; Gooch, Leadbitter, Scowen, McGeady; Wyke, O'Brien

Prediction: 3-0 Sunderland

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