Sunderland are preparing for a defining week in their battle against the Championship drop.
The late revival against Bristol City last week has raised hopes that a team who have all too often crumbled under pressure have turned a corner.
Three points against mid-table Brentford tomorrow are a must and many supporters are hoping that manager Chris Coleman moves away from the back five that brought real solidity in the early weeks of his tenure but has more recently malfunctioned.
The Black Cats’ boss has strongly hinted that he will do so, but also warned that his team’s mentality will be far more important than the shape they play in.
Our writers give their verdict on the XI that should get the nod fo the game...
It has been a difficult 2018 for Chris Coleman so far and all too often his team has picked itself due to injuries, suspensions and outgoing transfers.
With a number of experienced first-teamers returning and five new January signings bedding in, however, he finally has the capacity to shake things up in search of the right blend.
The stirring comeback at Ashton Gate raised hopes of a revival and, despite the jubilant scenes at full-time, the first-half implosion still rankles and Coleman has already suggested that changes are in the offing.
Aiden McGeady picks himself, playing as he did last weekend, though the challenge for him now is to take control of the game right from the first whistle.
Joel Asoro also showed his threat from the wide areas in that game and, by playing him alongside Kazenga LuaLua, Coleman could get the added benefit of two players who easily interchange if the team gets on the front foot.
LuaLua is working his way towards full match fitness but has impressed in all of his cameos so far. Sunderland simply have to pick a side capable of dictating the game from the off.
With three U23 games under his belt, Jonny Williams must surely be near a first-team recall.
Phil’s XI (4-2-3-1): Camp; Matthews, Browning, O’Shea, Oviedo; Cattermole, Williams; Asoro, LuaLua, McGeady; Fletcher
Chris Coleman has some big selection dilemmas ahead of a pivotal week in the club’s season.
To switch to a flat back four or keep faith with the three central defenders? To bring Kazenga LuaLua and/or Aiden McGeady into the side?
Which combination in central midfield? Where to play Joel Asoro, through the middle or out wide?
Plenty to ponder then for the Black Cats boss ahead of the home test against Brentford tomorrow.
Sunderland have shipped goals for fun in recent weeks – four against Cardiff, three against Birmingham, two against Ipswich, three at Bristol City. It is time for a change to four at the back.
Jake Clarke-Salter has struggled since arriving on loan from Chelsea, while Ty Browning has looked suspect in recent weeks, but I’d partner him with John O’Shea if Lamine Kone isn’t fit to start.
I’d go with Adam Matthews over Billy Jones at right-back, with McGeady recalled, providing width from the left, with Asoro on the right, supporting Ashley Fletcher through the middle.
Rich’s XI (4-3-3): Camp, Matthews, Browning, O’Shea, Oviedo, Cattermole, Honeyman, Williams, McGeady, Asoro, Fletcher