An FA Cup replay tonight is perhaps the last thing Phil Parkinson would have wished for given the number of players away on international duty, but if his team show attacking intent they may be able to progress.
That strategy worked effectively in their last trip to the Priestfield Stadium as the Black Cats ran out 4-1 winners, but a lot has changed since that day in August 2018.
Not only do Sunderland have a different manager, but only three of the players who started that match will be available tonight, with Parkinson’s side very much down to bare bones.
The likes of Jordan Willis, George Dobson, Joel Lynch and Conor McLaughlin are away on international duty, while Luke O’Nien is suspended after picking up a red card against Scunthorpe.
That means there will be an opportunity for fringe players to start, particularly in defence, and considering the desperate form of some first-team players recently there is a chance for those individuals to secure a permanent place.
Despite the lack of options, there is no reason why Sunderland shouldn’t secure a place in the second round.
Parkinson has to show some bravery soon and attacking intent will at least help to win some fans back over, with the former Bolton boss so far seeing his side score more than one goal in just one match, and that was almost a month ago.
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With that in mind, here is how the visitors should line-up against the Gills.
A change to 4-4-2 would be a significant switch from the new boss, but given the abysmal run they need something to reinvigorate the squad and a fresh idea could be ideal.
Parkinson showed he isn’t afraid to change formation last time out, playing 4-3-3 unsuccessfully against Scunthorpe, and two up-front could allow Will Grigg to perform better, as he’d have a partner in Marc McNulty to play off of.
The Reading loanee has the attributes to serve this team well, and the tireless work he provides off the ball could allow Sunderland to sit high and defend from the front, especially if he’s backed up by the pacy Duncan Watmore and Aiden McGeady out wide.
The latter proved very effective in the home tie against Gillingham, executing an accurate strike from the edge of the area to put his team in front, while also coming close to notching a winner late on.
With quality wingers in the side who put attack first Sunderland should be more difficult to contain, and the service they provide into the box could be exactly what Grigg and McNulty need to get firing.