HAVING tended to largely stick with the same starting line-up during a 16-match run that has put Sunderland back firmly in the promotion mix, Phil Parkinson has warned his regulars about complacency ahead of a return to action at the Stadium of Light.

With no fresh injury problems ahead of tomorrow’s visit of Gillingham to Wearside, Parkinson is toying with the idea of mixing things up after losing at rivals for a top two spot Coventry City last weekend.

Since that defeat the Black Cats boss has been monitoring the stats from that game and on the training ground in case he feels that there are players who need to be taken out of the starting XI to face the Gills.

But Parkinson is reluctant to do so, even though there have been calls from fans for the likes of January recruit Declan John to be given a chance ahead of Denver Hume or Kyle Lafferty to lead the line instead of Charlie Wyke.

“Obviously performance level on a match day, training as well. We always look at that when thinking about the team,” said Parkinson. “Physical stats in terms of the matches and training. Who’s looking in good shape and able to perform at the top of their game?

“Just sometimes in training you can see who’s looking bright and other people might look a bit flat on any given day. But that’s why competition does regulate the standard of training.

“We weigh everything up. We’re not the only team who’s gone with the same-ish team for a long period - quite a lot of teams do it. Even in the Premier League a few teams have done that as well.

“And it’s just making sure the ones who’ve got the shirt maintain the standards. If they drop them, then other players are knocking on the door.”

Wyke, Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire have been the three players in attack who have effectively driven the side back up the league with their performances during their recent run of good form in the final third.

The defeat at Coventry was only the second reversal Sunderland had suffered in 16 matches, and this year. It left them four points adrift of second placed Rotherham ahead of this weekend’s round of fixtures, and then there are three away dates in a row pencilled in against Bristol Rovers, Blackpool and Southend.

And Parkinson knows it will be hard to break into that top two given the teams involved, having built a reputation on getting sides promoted from the third tier.

He said: “I think there’s definitely more quality in terms of the depth of that quality than there has been for a long time.

“It’s really tight and there are some good sides. But we’re one of them, and we’re on as good a run as anybody.

“Obviously, the last game is a disappointment. But we’ve got to pick up where we left off in the last couple of home games where the performances have been terrific. Hopefully we’ll get the points and it will get us right back in the mix.”

When Sunderland lost to Portsmouth on February 1 they responded with four straight wins, so a repeat would be nice.

He added: “They look in a good place particularly today, all the training was excellent - obviously it was a beautiful day, so that always helps.

“But the lads are focused; there on it. We know what we’ve got to do, we know what we’ve got to deal with at the weekend, and it’s up to us to come out on top.

“All are pushing for a place. We’ve got three games in seven days. We’ve got to pick the team, or the teams, in those three games which we feel is right to get the points in each and every one.”

Parkinson has been boosted by the return of midfielder Elliot Embleton to training too.

He has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since September 2019 and the highly-rated 20-year-old is nearing a return to the first team stage.

“Everybody is fine and Elliot Embleton is back involved in training,” he said. “We’re just hoping we can get him through another week’s training and then he will be in close contention.

“He has had a few false dawns when he has come back in and not felt quite right, but this is looking a lot more positive now.”

Sunderland’s teenager Bali Mumba has joined hometown club South Shields on loan. The 18-year-old will spend the remainder of the season with the Northern Premier League Premier Division leaders, and could make his debut at Bamber Bridge.