The crucial calls Sunderland boss Alex Neil is weighing up ahead of Bristol City test

Sunderland travel to Bristol City this weekend looking to build on a broadly encouraging opening-day display against Coventry City.

The Black Cats had chances to secure a precious win against the Sky Blues but in the end the visitors rescued a deserved point through Viktor Gyokeres.

So what decisions will Alex Neil be weighing up as he prepares to name his side at Ashton Gate?

We take a closer look...

Sunderland boss Alex Neil


Neil as a general rule prefers to play with a back four but tailors his side for the opposition and so it was no major surprise to see him match up Coventry City's back three last week.

For the most part, it worked very well, with the errors that came towards the end of both halves more a reflection of tiredness in the Sunderland ranks than any tactical issues. Lynden Gooch and Jack Clarke also excelled in their wing-back roles, which may well have been one of the bigger pre-match worries.

Bristol City are also highly likely to field a 3-5-2 shape under Nigel Pearson, with Chris Martin and Andi Weimann forming a dangerous strike pairing. Neil generally likes to have three defenders in central areas when facing an opposition two, so his defence may well have a similar look at Ashton Gate.


Going with the back three was one of the main reasons Patrick Roberts had to settle for a place on the bench last Sunday, with Neil packing the midfield and trusting Gooch and Clarke to get through a lot of defensive work out wide.

When Coventry went to a 4-3-3 in the second half Neil quickly matched up, allowing Roberts to come on his favoured right-wing role.

There's no doubt that Roberts will have a key part to play at some stage in the game due to his counter-attacking threat, and he could well push Elliot Embleton for one of the two attacking midfield roles if Neil does play the same shape.

Neil also now has the option of starting Ellis Simms up front alongside Ross Stewart, or switching to that front two within games.

He admitted that he was tempted to do so late on last Sunday, but felt it was too great a risk to lose a player in the central midfield area where his side were beginning to struggle.


The draw with Coventry City underlined why this particular decision is more important than ever.

With five substitutes allowed, having the depth and variety to change games is crucial and Mark Robins was able to use his squad to turn the tide.

Neil made just two substitutions, and his side looked leggy by the end.

It leaves him with a number of dilemmas ahead of the weekend. Jay Matete and Jack Diamond were both left out of the squad, and though competition is significant a little more pace and energy might be required.

Another option is Leon Dajaku. Neil felt he was not fit enough last weekend after only just returning from a minor groin issue, but he has since had a full week of training. There were three defenders on the bench last weekend so there is scope for a minor adjustment.