Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson has seen his side start the season well with just one defeat in all competitions. The Black Cats are currently second in League One and have progressed to the last 16 of the Carabao Cup. With injuries beginning to clear, match fitness improving and fringe players showing they are ready for first-team action, Johnson has a welcome selection headache going forward.
Johnson made eight changes to his side for the midweek Carabao Cup tie at Wigan Athletic. Those that came into the side impressed both Johnson and the fans. Sunderland won the game 2-0 and were comfortable throughout against the side that are currently top of League One.
Sunderland Head Coach Lee Johnson Has Welcome Selection Headache Going Forward
Strong Start for the Black Cats
Lee Johnson has had a settled side for much of the league campaign so far. In the cup competitions, he has made changes that have paid off, allowing many to show that they are first-team quality. Johnson is likely to revert to the team that has served him well in the league so far this weekend; however, over the coming weeks and months of a long and hectic season, it appears Johnson has strength in depth at his disposal. Here is a look at several players pushing for a first-team place.
Signed on a season-long loan from Everton, 23-year-old Broadhead has European and Premier League experience with the Toffees. A versatile forward, he can play in several attacking positions. He started his second game and scored his first goal for the Black Cats in the Carabao Cup victory at Wigan. It was a strike that was hailed by Lee Johnson. His versatility could be key as the season progresses.
Signed on a four-year deal from Leed United this summer, Huggins made his second appearance for the club against Wigan. The fullback is competing against midfielder turned right-back Carl Winchester for a first-team spot. Winchester has become a fan favourite so far this season due to his performances; however, it now appears that he has strong competition for his place after Huggins excelled in the Carabao Cup.
Speaking to SAFC TV after the game Johnson said of Huggins: “He was electric. He is – I’m trying to think of a nice word for him – like a ferret or a rat or a flea.
“Something that is just like a pest and constant, his willingness to play and follow is commendable. He has had a great education at Leeds and he can bring that to us.”
The on-loan Union Berlin winger impressed on his first start in midweek. The 20-year-old former Bayern Munich player signed on transfer deadline day with an option to make the deal permanent and took his chance to show what he can do. It is early days for the youngster on Wearside and although not fully fit, there were signs of things to come. Dajaku has the likes of Aiden McGeady, Lynden Gooch and Nathan Broadhead to compete with for a place on the wing. However, when fully match fit, those players could be looking over their shoulders.
Signed on a free transfer during the summer following his release from Huddersfield Town, the former £11 million man has had to be patient so far. The form of Elliot Embleton in the number ten role has seen Pritchard play mainly in cup competitions. Following an unhappy time at Huddersfield, the ex Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City attacking midfielder has something to prove.
Against Wigan, Pritchard gave a man of the match performance with fans, media and head coach Lee Johnson singing his praises. He has had to bide his time in a bid to get match fit; however, he appears to be almost there and will have Johnson debating on whether he can fit him and the in-form Embleton into the same side.
Following a month out through injury, Sunderland’s summer signing and new captain is back and available for selection. However, he could face a tough task regaining his first-team place. Dan Neil and Luke O’Nien have formed a good partnership in the centre of midfield and at present, it would be difficult for Sunderland head coach Johnson to break up the partnership. A calm influence in the centre of the park, Evans will no doubt feature throughout the course of the season.
A hat-trick hero against Blackpool in the Carabao Cup, forward O’Brien almost left the club before the transfer window shut. A move to Doncaster Rovers almost went through but for an administrative error. Always on the fringes of the first team since he signed in 2020, O’Brien has mainly been played on the wing. However, when he has played as a striker he has shown he can score goals. Likely to remain a sub for the time being; however, due to the number of games played in League One alongside cup competitions, he should get game time.