The last few weeks have been a triumphant affair for Sunderland. Lee Johnson’s team are now fourth in the League One table and are unbeaten in their last eight matches, winning seven in that time frame.
It would seem that promotion could finally be on the cards for the Black Cats this season.
Before they prepare for the run-in, however, they face Tranmere in the Papa John’s Trophy final. The Mackems travel to the capital and Wembley Stadium on Sunday afternoon to face the League Two opposition in what should be a comfortable win on paper.
That being said, all form goes out the window when you play in a final. Sunderland have been at this stage before but tasted defeat to Portsmouth in 2019; they know they cannot afford any slip-ups.
With such a crucial match ahead, Johnson will have plenty of dilemmas to mull over in terms of his team selection. Here’s the XI we’re predicting him to pick.
Life at the Stadium of Light is never simple and that has been evident this week.
Sunderland defeated Portsmouth but, as the week drew to a close, it became apparent that injuries were going to bite them once again.
They are already missing a number of players including Denver Hume and Bailey Wright, but Jordan Jones is now a major doubt to play after suffering a minor injury. Both he and Aiden O’Brien are set to face late fitness tests but Johnson claims O’Brien is far more likely than Jones to play.
That being said, we suggest both could miss out. Consequently, Sunderland may make as many as four changes from the Pompey clash. Chris Maguire comes into the side for O’Brien while Conor McLaughlin, fit again after hernia surgery, is in for Jones.
He shifts into a central area in defence, with Max Power preferred at right wing-back in a five-man backline.
Wright is set to miss out while Dion Sanderson is cup-tied, having already played for Wolves under-21s in this competition. Fortunately, they have Tom Flanagan back, who can take the place of Sanderson.
The final replacement is in the middle of the park, where Carl Winchester has to sit out. The midfielder has already played for Forest Green in this year’s competition so, like Sanderson, he is cup-tied.
Johnson revealed that Grant Leadbitter is set to return from a dislocated shoulder, so he slots in for Winchester.