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The Sunderland dilemmas facing Alex Neil today ahead of Charlton clash

Football League World logo Football League World 05/03/2022 Adam Jones

League One promotion challengers Sunderland will be desperate to build on a stunning away victory against Wigan Athletic this weekend as they face Charlton Athletic in the English capital.

They came into last weekend’s match at the DW Stadium as firm underdogs following a poor run of form – but took the lead in the second minute through Bailey Wright and didn’t look back after that with a Ross Stewart brace making the scoreline more emphatic against a side that will be expected to win automatic promotion at the end of this term.

The scenario couldn’t be much more different this weekend with Charlton failing to pick up a single point from a possible 15 in their last five league matches, a real disappointment for a side that were on course to be challenging for a play-off spot before their form dropped off.

The atmosphere at The Valley will only worsen if the Addicks suffer another defeat today – and the onus is on the Black Cats to make a fast start and ensure the home crowd are on their side’s back from the early stages of the game.

Not everything will be plain sailing though as the Wearside outfit have learnt in the third tier in recent years, especially for manager Alex Neil who will have a couple of dilemmas to deal with prior to this afternoon’s kick-off.

We select just two of those as his side aim to record consecutive league wins.

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Doyle or Xhemajli?

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Callum Doyle had last weekend to recuperate after establishing himself as one of the first names on the teamsheet at the Stadium of Light, something he should be commended for considering he’s just 18.

The teenager is destined for a big future based on his current development – but it was clear he needed a rest in recent weeks and he was finally given that respite by Neil.

However, the Black Cats’ manager has given himself a real dilemma in that aspect – because his replacement in Arbenit Xhemajli performed superbly in Greater Manchester last weekend and it would be extremely harsh to take the Kosovan or goalscorer Wright out of the starting lineup at this stage.

Considering the latter duo also kept a clean sheet against an automatic promotion favourite in Wigan, you wouldn’t blame either for kicking up a fuss if one is left out in favour of Doyle.

Ideally, Neil would want the teenager back in the first 11 because that would show the third-tier side’s new boss has faith in him and that would give Doyle a lot of confidence.

But doing that would send out the wrong message to players who need to earn their position on merit – and switching to a back three to accommodate the trio wouldn’t be a good idea either with their back four system working reasonably well last time out.

Worth limiting Matete’s game time?

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Although he has picked up the bulk of this season’s bookings at Fleetwood, receiving three yellow cards in six league games for the Black Cats is a disciplinary record he will want to improve.

Picking up the occasional caution is part and parcel of playing in the middle of the park and sometimes that’s what is required to break up dangerous opposition attacks.

However, this has left him just one yellow card away from a two-match suspension with two games still to go until the cut-off point comes, meaning he will need to avoid one in his next 180 minutes of third-tier football if he wants to avoid sitting on the sidelines.

That’s easier said than done and it makes you wonder whether Neil should either bench him for these next two matches before bringing him on in the latter stages or potentially bringing him off if he does start.

Since his move in January, he has been a regular starter so bringing him out now could be costly – but limiting his pitch time for the next two games is better than having him completely unavailable for two.

Thankfully, he would be available for the crunch tie against Rotherham later this month regardless of whether he manages to escape another booking or not.

In that case, it may be worth risking him, though Dan Neil is a great option to have from the bench and one they shouldn’t be scared of utilising.



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