Sunderland will want to get over a mini bump in the road when they face off against Millwall this weekend, the Black Cats suffering back-to-back losses in the Championship that has derailed their hunt for a playoff spot for the time being.
Tony Mowbray’s men will be encouraged however by the Lions also being out of form for the game at the Den, Millwall losing 3-0 and 3-1 in their last two games under new head coach Joe Edwards.
It will be an intriguing battle to watch unfold on Saturday, as Mowbray ponders over what team he should pick in an attempt to get back to winning ways whilst the hosts also look to gain three points to stop their own rot.
Here’s what Sunderland’s XI could look like, with a first-team stalwart in defence potentially dropped…
GK – Anthony Patterson
Anthony Patterson won’t look back on his individual display in the 2-1 loss to Huddersfield Town last match with any particular fondness, letting in two goals despite the Terriers only registering four shots on target across the 90 minutes.
Yet, Patterson is Mowbray’s trusted number-one goalkeeper – not yet missing a minute of second-tier action this season – and so he should be retained in the lineup even after a wobbly performance.
RB – Trai Hume
Trai Hume should also start again at right-back when his team travel down to the Den on Saturday, Hume heavily involved in Sunderland passages of play against the Terriers all match.
The breakthrough Black Cats star amassed 120 touches in total at the Stadium of Light, as per Sofascore, a key player in Mowbray’s possession-focused team.
CB – Jenson Seelt
The first big call Sunderland’s manager could make is potentially leaving out Daniel Ballard, who was nowhere near his best against Darren Moore’s Huddersfield.
Ballard would attempt zero tackles in the match, allowing the Terriers to grow in confidence going forward.
Whereas, Jenson Seelt – playing in an unorthodox left-back role last match – performed admirably in the position switch, having previously been hailed as someone who is “so talented with the ball at his feet“, in the words of his manager.
The 20-year-old won eight duels in the contest whilst even registering a shot on target for his team, Seelt wanting to now displace Ballard and revert back to a familiar centre-back role against Millwall.
CB – Luke O’Nien
Mowbray might well feel more comfortable starting his young Dutch centre-back knowing that his partner will be Luke O’Nien, Sunderland’s captain an experienced and reliable head at the back.
O’Nien even scored against Huddersfield last match, the Black Cats number 13 in the right place at the right time to connect with the ball and rifle home.
LB – Niall Huggins
Niall Huggins, who is capped by Wales four times at U21 level, could come back into the side to fill the gap of Seelt moving over to centre-back.
An unused substitute in the home loss to Huddersfield, Huggins will be raring to go if selected for the game at the Den by Mowbray – the former Leeds United youngster winning eight of his nine duels last time he was picked against Plymouth Argyle.
CM – Dan Neil
Dan Neil’s spot in the team should be safe for the trip down to London, the 21-year-old performing well against Huddersfield despite the final score.
Accumulating 130 touches of the ball on the night, Neil’s composure on the ball was a joy to watch from a Sunderland perspective – accurate with 110 of his passes in the game.
Neil will hope he can have a similarly impressive game against Millwall, with one of those passes potentially unlocking a stern Lions defence to give the Black Cats a decisive goal.
CM – Pierre Ekwah
Pierre Ekwah could come back into the team to play alongside Neil in central midfield, another unused subsitute by Mowbray against Huddersfield.
Averaging a 7.11 Sofascore rating when fielded this season by his Black Cats boss, Sunderland’s number 39 excels at getting stuck in and recovering the ball for his team.
Ekwah recovers the ball 5.4 times per game on average, whilst also launching himself into 1.8 tackles per 90 minutes. Could Mowbray select Ekwah for the game at Millwall to add more steel to his team?
LM – Jack Clarke
Jack Clarke starting for Sunderland at this moment in time is a no-brainer, the former Tottenham winger electric for the Black Cats this season to date.
If Sunderland are to get anything from the game at the Den on Saturday, Clarke will more than likely have a part to play in that happening.
CAM – Jobe Bellingham
Despite Mowbray stating in recent weeks that he’s worried of overplaying Jobe Bellingham, the ex Birmingham City teenager could start against Millwall regardless.
Bellingham didn’t have his most impactful game in a Black Cats shirt versus Huddersfield – substituted off at the 74th minute mark – but Sunderland’s number seven can create something from nothing with the teenager notching up five key passes last match even on a supposed off-day.
RM – Patrick Roberts
Patrick Roberts should also be retained down the right wing up against the Lions, Sunderland’s number ten trying his best to work openings all night against a dogged Terriers team.
Roberts would accurately put two crosses into the box during the game but no one was there to prod home – the Black Cats’ weaknesses up top exposed again.
The former Manchester City man will just hope if he does the same against Millwall that his teammates won’t be as toothless, Roberts desperate to get up and running with a goal or assist this season.
ST – Eliezer Mayenda
Another figure in the Sunderland ranks that will also be chomping at the bit to contribute going forward is Eliezer Mayenda, the summer signing from Sochaux in France starting against Huddersfield as the lone striker option.
Only losing possession four times in the game, Mowbray will want to see Mayenda attempt more efforts on goal against Millwall if he is selected.
If he does score at the Den on Saturday, Mayenda could well be the answer to the ongoing striker woes at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland predicted lineup in full vs Millwall: GK – Patterson; RB – Hume, CB – Seelt, CB – O’Nien, LB – Huggins; CM – Ekwah, CM – Neil; RM – Roberts, CAM – Bellingham, LM – Clarke; ST – Mayenda