Sunderland return to Championship action on Saturday and Tony Mowbray is potentially facing more selection dilemmas than at any time in his tenure so far.
It’s why he said in the aftermath of the 1-0 friendly win last Friday that he believes it could be an exciting second half of the campaign.
The extensive injury list has not fully cleared but it is getting there, and some key figures are pushing for inclusion at the weekend. While there are a number of big decisions to be made as to the starting XI - perhaps most significant is the impact that it will have on Mowbray’s bench. For the first time, he’ll have depth and variety in almost every position to switch things up in the game.
It could also lead to some very good players missing out entirely, both this weekend and moving forward Here, we explain how it could shake out…
1. GK - ANTHONY PATTERSON
Patterson will be looking to pick up where he left off in the first phase of the season. It was notable that Amad’s excellent goal on Friday evening came from a move sparked by Patterson’s excellent first-time pass, distribution is one of the many areas of his game improving rapidly. Photo: FRANK REID 2022
2. RB - TRAI HUME
This position is ultimately too close to call. Though his evening ended in some unfortunate clashes off the ball, Lynden Gooch looked sharp and fit in breaking forward on his return to action. After an excellent start to the season he’ll be tough to leave out - but Hume was excellent against Birmingham and earned fulsome praise from Mowbray. He’s great in the air and defends well, a bit of a throwback in a welcome way. Either way, it’s good depth and variety in the position. Photo: FRANK REID
3. CB - DANNY BATTH
Batth has been ever-present in the Championship so far this season and that seems unlikely to change anytime soon, he has consistently been a key figure at the heart of this side. Photo: FRANK REID 2022
4. CB - AJI ALESE
Mowbray has a real dilemma in this position as Luke O’Nien has been one of his most dependable performers since arriving. That may just encourage him to keep him in the side with Alese having just 45 minutes of football under his belt from Friday’s friendly. Yet the defender was so good in the games before his injury that the temptation will be to play him somewhere on the left side of defence. It won’t be long before he’s back in the side if he is back at that level. Photo: Frank Reid