The FOUR massive selection dilemmas facing Lee Johnson ahead of Mansfield clash in FA Cup

Sunderland face Mansfield Town in the FA Cup at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

Friday, 5th November 2021, 12:00 pm

Sunderland need a win in League One when they play Ipswich Town next after losses to Charlton Athletic, Rotherham United and Sheffield Wednesday.

But with that third-tier clash so far away, Lee Johnson could be tempted to start with a strong XI against Mansfield.

Here, we take a look at the big selection dilemmas facing the head coach ahead of the clash:

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Lee Johnson

THE LUKE O’NIEN QUESTION

If there’s one player that needs to sit this one out, then it is probably Luke O’Nien.

The 27-year-old has been featuring in midfield for Sunderland this season but has struggled to find consistent form.

Indeed, O’Nien’s performances were poor against Charlton Athletic, Rotherham United and Sheffield Wednesday despite a decent showing against QPR.

Nevertheless, O’Nien has racked up the fourth-highest total of minutes played in League One this season and looks desperate for a break.

Johnson has limited options in the midfield department at the moment with the injury-prone Corry Evans unlikely to be risked against Mansfield.

Alex Pritchard, Elliot Embleton and Dan Neil are three first-teamers that could start against the Stags.

However, such is the aforementioned trio’s importance to Sunderland’s league form, Johnson may be tempted to dip into Sunderland’s under-23s.

Stephen Wearne, who scored against Lincoln City and Manchester United U23s in the Papa John’s Trophy, could be handed a chance.

Ellis Taylor is another option alongside Harrison Sohna, a signing from Aston Villa during the summer, and Tom Scott, who arrived from Northampton Town during the last transfer window.

THE DILEMMA UP-FRONT

Ross Stewart is crucial to how Sunderland play.

The big Scot has netted 10 goals in League One so far this season and has won the man of the match award in six of his 14 appearances.

The striker has also played the second-highest amount of minutes in the league from Sunderland’s squad (1334).

With his team struggling in the league, it is vital Johnson keeps Stewart fit, especially given Nathan Broadhead’s recent injury problems and general lack of depth up-front.

Johnson may be tempted to start Benji Kimpioka or Will Harris, who have both netted hat-tricks for the under-23s in recent months.

LEFT-BACK AND RIGHT-BACK DECISIONS

Left-back Dennis Cirkin hadn’t made his league debut before joining Sunderland from Tottenham Hotspur during the summer window.

Since then, the 19-year-old has been throwing into the fire at the Stadium of Light and has performed well despite his formative years.

Sunderland have problems in his position with Denver Hume and Niall Huggins both sidelined through injury.

That may mean that Cirkin is rested for the Wearsiders’ next league game with under-23 left-backs Tyrese Dyce or Nathan Newell handed a chance to prove themselves in the first team.

No player has played more minutes for Sunderland in League One this season than Carl Winchester.

The 28-year-old has played 1336 minutes for Sunderland in the third tier and is in need of rest after playing against QPR in the Carabao Cup last week too.

Winchester, who was brought to the club as a midfielder, has even chipped in with three goals and an assist from right-back.

But Johnson will surely be tempted to give Ollie Younger a run-out at right-back, with under-23 starlet Kenton Richardson also an option.

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