Phil Parkinson has been met with an injury crisis ahead of facing MK Dons at the Stadium of Light on Saturday as several Sunderland players nurse issues.
The Black Cats will also be without Northern Irish duo Conor McLaughlin and Tom Flanagan, with the pair away on international duty as Sunderland aim to maintain their Play-Off position and reduce the four-point margin to League One leaders Peterborough.
MK Dons are facing their own injury blows, too, as boss Russell Martin has confirmed two further names have joined George Williams, Joe Mason and Kieran Agard on the sidelines while Regan Poole and Daniel Harvie are away on international duty.
Sunderland won their last League One meeting with a 2-1 victory at home to Ipswich Town thanks to goals from Charlie Wyke and Grant Leadbitter, while the Dons were held to a goalless draw with Northampton Town to sit just a point above the relegation zone.
Parkinson will be eager to see his men emerge triumphant this weekend but with injuries across the field, here’s a predicted XI the Black Cats could favour to avoid only a second loss of the league campaign…
Goalkeeper Lee Burge has now opened all 10 of Sunderland’s League One fixtures this term and will be expected to maintain his 100% record at home to MK Dons, having registered the second-most clean sheets (six) in the third-tier thanks to 16 saves, two punches, five high claims and two successful runs out, per SofaScore.
The first of Parkinson’s selection dilemmas comes in defence, though, with McLaughlin and Flanagan both unavailable.
Parkinson has been full of praise for Flanagan this year, having lauded the 7-cap international for taking his game to another level.
“Tommy in the last month or so has taken his game to another level,” Parkinson said, via quotes by the Chronicle in February. “That is by identifying what he needs to do to have a good game, and training properly.
“His standard of training has gone up and he is reaping the benefits of that on a match day. He is desperate to do well, he is a good professional and I am pleased with his performances.”
Jordan Willis is expected to make his return to the starting line-up before receiving an injection to help control his ongoing knee problem, while Bailey Wright is the sole defensive starter of the Ipswich win set to be on hand.
Dion Sanderson could start alongside Willis and Wright in place of McLaughlin and Flanagan, with Olivier Younger also at risk of being unavailable after being withdrawn from the Fleetwood game.
Midfielders Denver Hume and Luke O’Nien both sustained minor knocks last week that prevented their involvement in Tuesday’s EFL Trophy tie, and will see their respective knee and medial ligament issues continue to be monitored ahead of facing MK Dons.
Parkinson has been impressed with Hume’s efforts since returning from lockdown earlier in the year, noting via quotes by the Chronicle: “Denver is an improving player and I think there is still more to come from him, but he knows that himself.
“To be a top player, you have to be able to do everything. There were elements of Denver’s game that he needed to improve on, but I feel that after the lockdown he came back like a man and he has shown that with his performances.”
Should neither be passed fit to start, Parkinson will be left in a mix with Callum McFadzean a major doubt with a hamstring injury, while Lynden Gooch and youth winger Cieran Dunne are also questionable to feature.
With a lack of viable options, Parkinson could be forced into handing Aiden O’Brien only his fifth start of the League One campaign and returning Chris Maguire to a wide-right role after playing centrally at home to Ipswich.
Josh Scowen could make his return in the centre of midfield to partner Leadbitter, having sat out the Black Cats’ EFL Trophy and FA Cup ties over the past week after sustaining a concussion in the Ipswich win.
Gooch’s questionable status may also open the door for Max Power to make his first league start since October’s 2-2 draw with Rochdale, having been benched against Gillingham and Ipswich before replacing Scowen following his concussion.
Parkinson will be glad to have leading goalscorer Wyke available for Saturday’s meeting with MK Dons, having struck each of his four goals in Sunderland’s last six League One fixtures.
But the Black Cats boss will have a decision to make over who to partner Wyke with, having called on Maguire to start against Ipswich and O’Brien against Gillingham but requiring both to play wide roles against the Dons.
Parkinson has two options to call on in Will Grigg and Danny Graham, though Grigg has failed to score in any of his five appearances across all competitions this term while Graham has netted once in 11 outings and started two of his eight League One appearances.