Sunderland will hope a return to the comforts of the Stadium of Light tonight – where the Black Cats have picked up eight wins in the Championship to date this season – can steer the Wearside club back on course after a bruising defeat to Ipswich Town last time out.
Going 1-0 up early on in Suffolk courtesy of a Jack Clarke thunderbolt saw the rapturous away following at Portman Road grow in confidence, only for Kieran McKenna’s hosts to show their class eventually and come away with a comeback 2-1 win to break Sunderland hearts.
Michael Beale will hope switching up the Black Cats lineup can inspire an immediate response from his players to overcome Hull City tonight, with two potential changes in this predicted XI from the narrow Tractor Boys defeat last weekend…
GK – Anthony Patterson
Beale will hope he can keep his number one goalkeeper Anthony Patterson past this January despite interest from elsewhere, with football journalist Alan Nixon stating that the reliable Black Cats shot-stopper is being linked with a shock move away to Liverpool.
Despite this interest from Jurgen Klopp’s Reds potentially turning Patterson’s head and making him demand a move away, Beale will start the 23-year-old against the Tigers.
RB – Jenson Seelt
With Aji Alese potentially not fit enough to start tonight’s game against Liam Rosenior’s Hull, Beale could have to shake up the back four and play Jenson Seelt at right-back with Trai Hume moved over to the then-vacant left-back spot.
The exciting Dutchman shone playing in this makeshift role when Sunderland faced off against Hull in the reverse fixture just last month, winning five duels in the away contest to help his side clinch the three points.
CB – Daniel Ballard
Daniel Ballard’s spot in the defence is set in stone for tonight’s clash in contrast, the former Arsenal centre-back only missing one game this season to date in the league.
The Northern Ireland international even stood out in the defeat to Ipswich, winning all but one of his duels but to no avail as McKenna’s men still exited the fierce encounter victorious.
CB – Luke O’Nien
Luke O’Nien also trudged off the field of play with his head held high despite the final scoreline, blocking four shots in the 2-1 away loss to ensure Sunderland weren’t completely humbled on their travels to Suffolk.
The 29-year-old also gave his all in the reverse fixture versus the Tigers in December, completing ten accurate long balls in the narrow 1-0 win. Could O’Nien help his promotion-chasing side pick up a victory on home turf tonight with another clean sheet tallied up?
LB – Trai Hume
Hume won’t be out of his comfort zone too much filling in at left-back tonight if selected there by Beale, drafted in with other options lacking that can do a job.
Averaging 5.7 ball recoveries per game this season, Beale will hope Hume’s full-throttle energy and tenacity down the flanks can help Sunderland pick up a much-needed win at the expense of Hull to forget the demons of Ipswich.
CM – Pierre Ekwah
With Beale’s experiment of playing a 4-4-2 formation at Portman Road not working whatsoever, the 43-year-old in the Black Cats hot-seat could be tempted to switch back to the tried and test set-up of a 4-2-3-1 with Pierre Ekwah chosen as one of his holding midfielders.
Ekwah struggled against the Tractor Boys centrally – the ex-West Ham United youth player turned Sunderland first-teamer allowing himself to be dribbled past twice – and so Beale will hope reverting the number 39 to a more comfortable anchor position gets the best out of him again.
CM – Dan Neil
On the contrary, Dan Neil didn’t quite flop in the new formation chosen by Beale – amassing one key pass versus Ipswich in a bid to pull off a monumental victory on the road – but the homegrown Sunderland product does excel alongside Ekwah when played further back.
When featuring versus the Tigers away last month, Neil’s creativity from a deep role stood out even more – helping himself to three key passes in the encounter – with one of those balls setting up Jack Clarke to score a stunner to win the tight match.
RM – Abdoullah Ba
Abdoullah Ba could well be retained for tonight’s clash, the right winger benefitting from Patrick Roberts still being in the Sunderland treatment room and attempting to show to Beale that he’s worthy of being Roberts’ immediate replacement whenever selected.
Still only 20 years of age, the Frenchman isn’t quite the finished product yet but his raw ability down the channels did trouble Ipswich defenders on occasion at Portman Road.
Registering two key passes from just 34 touches of the ball, Ba will hope he can contribute with a strike or an assist tonight as Sunderland get back to winning ways returning to Wearside.
CAM – Jobe Bellingham
With Alex Pritchard being lined up for a move away from the Black Cats, according to reports, despite breathing life back into his fading Sunderland career in recent weeks, Jobe Bellingham is the obvious choice in this number ten role for the visit of Hull tonight.
Played as an unorthodox striker against Ipswich, the dynamic 18-year-old is far more at ease playing just behind the lone centre-forward.
On New Year’s Day, as Sunderland confidently dispatched Preston North End with ease in a 2-0 win, Bellingham shone in this role with a 100% successful dribble completion rate managed on top of only misplacing four passes from the 85 minutes he was on the pitch.
LM – Jack Clarke
It’s no surprise to any Sunderland fans now when Jack Clarke rifles in a wonder strike, the ex-Tottenham Hotspur winger able to have his own goal of the season competition at this point with another sumptuous effort managed against the Tractor Boys last weekend.
Clarke will just hope if he manages to get fans at the Stadium of Light off their feet again with a sublime goal against Hull that a win is forthcoming at full-time, with the promotion hopefuls abundantly aware that their star attacker is a wanted man and could move on if the Black Cats slump further.
ST – Nazariy Rusyn
Dropped for the Ipswich game to make way for Pritchard and Bellingham to form an unlikely striker duo, Beale could gamble on giving Nazariy Rusyn another chance to impress as a lone forward in a formation change.
The Ukrainian attacker did manage to bag a rare goal last time he featured at the Stadium of Light in the second tier, only needing a modest 17 touches to poke home an effort versus Preston.
Rusyn will hope he can push on and find his clinical edge in England after finally breaking this goalscoring hoodoo, with his manager declaring that “he’ll become a fans’ favourite quite quickly” if goals begin to flow regularly.
Sunderland predicted lineup in full vs Hull: GK – Patterson; RB – Seelt, CB – Ballard, CB – O’Nien, LB – Hume; CM – Ekwah, CM – Neil; RM – Ba, CAM – Bellingham, LM – Clarke; ST – Rusyn