Sunderland boss Phil Parkinson must look to summer signing Dion Sanderson when he names his defence to face Portsmouth at the Stadium of Light this Saturday.
Kenny Jackett’s Fratton Park natives will be vying to maintain momentum in their early push for the play-off places this weekend, having claimed three wins in their last four games and eased past Gillingham 2-0 last time out.
The Black Cats are riding a strong wave of form themselves after an unbeaten start to the League One season, while boasting the third-tier’s best defensive record with just one goal shipped after six games.
Parkinson’s men were able to keep Crewe Alexandra at bay throughout their midweek clash despite having to name a makeshift defence, with Sunderland without Jordan Willis as a result of the foot injury which forced him off during the 2-0 win at Swindon.
Sanderson also sat out the Crewe affair as Parkinson felt the summer arrival needed longer to acclimatise having only trained with his new Black Cats teammates for the first time on Monday.
But now with a full week under his belt, Parkinson can feel easy about calling on Sanderson to face Portsmouth rather than risking Willis aggravating his injury after stating that the 26-year-old is still not fully fit on Friday.
Sanderson would prove a worthwhile candidate to face Portsmouth this weekend having fared strongly for Wolverhampton Wanderers in their EFL Trophy clash with Bradford, coming in his only senior appearance of the term before joining Sunderland on loan.
The 20-year-old managed to record six clearances, blocked one shot, made two interceptions and two tackles against the League Two opposition, while winning two of his four ground duels and playing 28 accurate passes, per SofaScore.
His performance was more than comparable to the form seen from Willis this term, with the 26-year-old recording an average 1.4 tackles, 3.0 clearances, 4.4 duels won, 25.4 accurate passes and 0.2 interceptions per game over his five appearances in the League One term thus far.
Sanderson was also fielded as the right-sided centre-half in a three-man defence, where Conor McLaughlin offered a futile display during the week to leave Parkinson surely considering changes at the back now that he has more options to turn too.
Former Sunderland boss Jack Ross was full of praise for McLaughlin when he welcomed the Northern Ireland international to the Stadium of Light last year.
“He brings quality and experience to a position that was of high-priority for us to have options in,” said Ross, via quotes by the Sunderland Echo. “I look forward to working with him over the course of the season.”
McLaughlin’s debut year did not go to plan, however, with the 29-year-old admitting earlier this month that he is determined to have a better campaign after doing himself an injustice.
“It was tough [last season],” the defender said, via quotes by the Chronicle. “I didn’t do myself justice when I did get a chance last year, so it was tough to take.
“But I was positive, kept working hard and hoped that I got my chance. If I want to stay in the team now then I need to play well, because there’s a lot of good players in the squad that can take your spot.”
Unfortunately, though, McLaughlin was the weakest link in Sunderland’s makeshift backline as they beat Crewe 1-0 on Tuesday night, with the natural right-back dropped in to cover for Willis’ injury.
McLaughlin failed to record any attempted tackles or aerial duels against David Artell’s side, per WhoScored, while his two clearances were insignificant alongside Bailey Wright’s seven.