Sunderland travel to Gillingham this Saturday on the back of a 2-2 draw with Rochdale, and Black Cats boss Phil Parkinson must consider changes to his starting line-up at Priestfield Stadium.
The Stadium of Light natives have fallen out of the League One Play-Off positions following Tuesday’s stalemate at the Crown Oil Arena, with Parkinson’s men now trailing Charlton Athletic by a point.
Sunderland had started the season in sublime fashion with an unbeaten run of six games, but allowing five goals to be scored in their last two fixtures has taken the wind out of the sails before visiting a side they have failed to beat in their last four meetings.
Gillingham, themselves, are struggling this season having lost five of their nine third-tier fixtures already, and boast one of the division’s worst defensive records with 13 goals shipped.
But Parkinson’s hope of taking a first Sunderland win at Gillingham since 2018 must come with changes to his starting line-up. So, with that in mind, here’s a predicted XI he could favour…
Parkinson has favoured a 3-5-1-1 formation in three of Sunderland’s last five League One fixtures, with the shape used against Charlton Athletic, Crewe Alexandra and Portsmouth before changing to a 3-4-3 at Rochdale for the first time since September’s 1-0 win over Peterborough.
The change in system did not return the Black Cats to winning ways, however, and the performances of certain players must see North East giants revert to more a successful formation.
Lee Burge will more likely than not retain his place in goal having started all eight of Sunderland’s third-tier fixtures to date, while making on average 1.8 saves per game accounting for 70% of all efforts struck, per SofaScore.
In defence, Parkinson will be expected to recall Luke O’Nien after he saw red late on for a second yellow against Portsmouth and sat out the Rochdale affair as a result, where the £3,600-per-week Tom Flanagan deputised but could only win two tackles and two interceptions, per WhoScored.
Dion Sanderson also featured against Rochdale and should retain his place on the right-hand of Parkinson’s backline amid concerns over Jordan Willis’ patella tendon injury, given the Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee’s eight clearances and 81% pass success rate at the Crown Oil Arena.
Sunderland’s midfield should be the focus of much of Parkinson’s tinkering this weekend, with the change in shape allowing for Josh Scowen to return to partner George Dobson and Max Power in the engine room after starting on the bench at Rochdale.
The 27-year-old has so far averaged 1.0 shots, 1.3 key balls, an 83% pass success rate, 1.3 tackles and 2.7 duels won a game in League One this term, per SofaScore.
Parkinson must also consider bringing Chris Maquire back into a central role in behind top-scorer Charlie Wyke, having struggled on the wing at Rochdale with no successful dribbles, shots on target or key passes.
Lynden Gooch also failed to impress on the left-flank against Rochdale and ought to be replaced by Aiden O’Brien, who Sunderland icon Kevin Phillips is excited to see in action following his summer arrival.
“I have made some enquiries because I know the people down at Millwall and they have given me some very good feedback about him,” Phillips told Football Insider. “I am excited to see this kid performs in League One.
“He has a bit of everything about him. He can play as a nine, a ten and he can play out wide. A player that gets himself in the box and can score a goal, I am very excited to see this lad play.”
AND in other news, Phil Parkinson has been urged to start a Sunderland star who “has a bit of everything”.
The post Flanagan dropped: Predicted Sunderland starting line-up vs Gillingham first appeared on FootballFanCast.com.