With the League One games already coming thick and fast, Sunderland manager Lee Johnson faces a number of tough calls ahead of the Black Cats’ clash with Burton Albion on Tuesday night in order to keep his squad as fresh as possible while also maintaining the Mackems’ 100% start to the season.
Indeed, in recent comments, the 40-year-old acknowledged the need for rotation in the Burton game, suggesting that 35-year-old Aiden McGeady could be due a rest.
As cited by Chronicle Live, Johnson said: “You just try and pick the best team to win the game, and it is obviously going to be a very different game [to the MK Dons fixture].
“I’ve got to assess the run of games we’ve had and have, and I’ve got to assess the sharpness of all the lads.
“I still think McGeady, for example, has a bit to do in terms of the catch up he’s been playing. We’ll find the balance.”
As such, with the veteran left-winger looking set to sit out the trip to the Pirelli Stadium on Tuesday, there would appear to be an obvious replacement who is quite literally waiting on the wings to start in place of the Republic of Ireland international – Alex Pritchard.
Having joined the club on a free transfer earlier this summer, Pritchard is yet to feature from the off in League One for the Black Cats, but the 28-year-old has nevertheless proven that he is more than worthy of a start against Burton.
Indeed, after being given a 29-minute cameo in the Black Cats’ 2-1 victory against MK Dons last weekend, the £2.25m-rated man touched the ball 17 times, as well as winning three tackles and three duels – metrics which saw the forward earn a SofaScore match rating of 7.10, the joint fourth-best of any Sunderland player in the fixture.
Prior to this performance, the former England under-21 international also highly impressed in his first Sunderland start in the Carabao Cup win over Port Vale, registering one assist, creating one big chance and making two key passes over his 65 minutes on the pitch, earning a SofaScore match rating of 7.00.
As such, it would very much appear as if the man who Mark Cooper once dubbed an “immense” player has already shown he is something of a game-changer for Sunderland, a trait which could well be hugely valuable for Johnson against an impressive Burton side who have also won both of their opening games of the League One season.
If the Mackems manager is indeed planning on resting McGeady for tonight’s fixture, it would appear most advisable for him to start Pritchard in the 35-year-old’s place.