Burn­ing is­sues fac­ing Cole­man ahead of cru­cial Pre­ston clash

Sunderland Echo - - Football - By Richard Men­n­ear richard.men­n­ear@jpress.co.uk Twit­ter: @RichMen­n­earJP

Chris Cole­man is yet to strike upon a sys­tem and team ca­pa­ble of string­ing to­gether the wins Sun­der­land need to sur­vive.

De­feat at QPR was Sun­der­land’s ninth with­out a win to leave them on the brink of League One foot­ball next sea­son.

Sun­der­land are rock bot­tom and, with just nine games left to save them­selves, re­al­is­ti­cally Cole­man will have to win at least half of them, prob­a­bly more, to sur­vive.

Pre­ston North End re­main in the hunt for a play-off spot and will pro­vide another stern test at the Sta­dium of Light, the scene of just two home wins all sea­son.

We ex­am­ine the burn­ing is­sues fac­ing Cole­man ahead of the game:

To keep faith with Ash­ley Fletcher?

Cole­man will have spent part of this week try­ing to boost Fletcher’s con­fi­dence af­ter the strug­gling Mid­dles­brough loa­nee was jeered off at Lof­tus Road.

Seven games in, he is yet to score. What makes it worse is that one of Sun­der­land’s other dead­line day tar­gets, Swansea City striker Oli McBurnie, has scored six times since join­ing rel­e­ga­tion ri­vals Barns­ley on loan.

Cole­man has put a lot of faith in Fletcher with other op­tions lim­ited. But he is strug­gling badly.

Should Kazenga LuaLua ever shake off his an­kle in­jury, he would play through the mid­dle, but, in the mean­time, Cole­man will be weigh­ing up whether to keep faith with Fletcher or play Josh Maja through the mid­dle, or play the pair to­gether, with livewire Joel Asoro the other op­tion. Ver­dict: Time is al­most up, Sun­der­land need to win and go two up top with Maja along­side Fletcher, with sup­port from Joel Asoro.

To take a risk in goal?

Sun­der­land have dropped goalkeepers five times and Cole­man will be forced into a sixth change against Pre­ston, with Ja­son Steele serv­ing a one-game ban.

Steele’s howler at Lof­tus Road opens the door for Lee Camp to re­turn.

Camp made a cou­ple of good saves against QPR, but he re­mains un­con­vinc­ing on crosses, with Sun­der­land’s on­go­ing strug­gles de­fend­ing set pieces a ma­jor is­sue.

With Rob­bin Ruiter out with a badly dis­lo­cated fin­ger, Cole­man has few other op­tions than to play Jan­uary sign­ing Camp, who joined from Cardiff City.

Cole­man, how­ever, could take a big risk and play Un­der-23 stopper Max Stry­jek.

The 21-year-old was re­called in Jan­uary from a dis­ap­point­ing loan at League Two side Ac­cring­ton Stan­ley and is cur­rently third choice be­hind Steele and Camp. Ver­dict: It would be a mas­sive sur­prise for Cole­man to start Stry­jek. While Sun­der­land’s fate re­mains in the bal­ance, he is likely to opt for ex­pe­ri­ence in Camp.

Switch sys­tem – again?

With in­juries forc­ing his hand, Cole­man started with a flat-back four at QPR, with Ty Brown­ing out for the sea­son and Jake Clarke-Sal­ter com­plet­ing his three-match ban.

The Chelsea loa­nee is avail­able to face Pre­ston, with Cole­man weigh­ing up whether to re­vert to five at the back, with Clarke-Sal­ter join­ing John O’Shea, play­ing through the pain bar­rier, and Lamine Kone.

Ge­orge Honey­man, Ovie Ejaria and Joel Asoro pro­vided the few plus points from QPR and Cole­man will be keen to keep them in the side, with Lee Cat­ter­mole sit­ting deep.

With Ai­den McGeady and Cal­lum McMana­man not con­sis­tent enough, they are likely to start on the bench.

There’s plenty to pon­der, but at least Cole­man has op­tions for a game Sun­der­land sim­ply MUST win. Ver­dict: Stick with four at the back to al­low an at­tack­ing player to re­main in the side.

7 Ash­ley Fletcher has had seven starts with­out scor­ing

Ash­ley Fletcher tries to forge an open­ing in Sun­der­land’s re­cent draw at Mill­wall.

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