Sunderland’s strongest XI has been a big talking point this season as Simon Grayson struggles to find the right combination.
The Black Cats boss now has a bigger and stronger pool of players available than at any time during his tenure on Wearside, but the drab draw with QPR led to more frustrations.
Away from home he will feel he is closer to the right formula after a decent display at Deepdale last time out, but what changes need to be made to lift the side out of their current malaise?
There is no question that a fit Williams should start. His willingness to drop deep, take possession, start moves and take players on is crucial to a side that has a habit of going long too early. The bigger debate is whether he replaces Lee Cattermole or Didier Ndong, or whether he plays as a more advanced midfielder off the main striker. Away from home it would be a surprise if Grayson went for the former but he is likely to find room for the Welshman either way.
The desire for continuity between the goalposts is understandable. After all, few teams have ever been successful when rotating goalkeepers throughout the season. Grayson defended Steele after the QPR draw but he needs a goalkeeper whose confidence encourages him to command his box from crosses and set-pieces. What we have seen so far this season suggests that on this front, Ruiter has the edge after recovering from his torrid league debut against Barnsley.
His exclusion last Saturday raised eyebrows. Sunderland have lacked the threat, McGeady aside, down the flanks that looked like it would be crucial in pre-season when Jeremain Lens and Wahbi Khazri were making an impact. The manager’s comments since have suggested concerns over fitness but having had three weeks of uninterrupted training with his new team-mates, the 26-year-old should be ready to make an impact. He and Williams made Sunderland a real threat on their only start together against Hull City, the side losing much momentum after their substitution. It is high time we saw them in tandem again.