PHIL PARKINSON has challenged his Sunderland strikers to make themselves un-droppable, but the Black Cats boss fully expects to be chopping and changing his forward line throughout the campaign.

Sunderland have played four competitive fixtures so far this season, and Parkinson has already fielded three different combinations of forwards.

Will Grigg and Aiden O’Brien played alongside each other in the Carabao Cup defeat to Hull and the opening-day draw with Bristol Rovers, Charlie Wyke lined up as a lone striker in the EFL Trophy thrashing of Aston Villa Under-21s, while it was Danny Graham who got the nod to partner O’Brien as Sunderland won at Oxford last weekend.

Parkinson has spent most of the week pondering which way to go when Peterborough United visit the Stadium of Light this afternoon, and while he would love one of his forwards to go on the kind of scoring spree that would make them impossible to leave out, he expects the ability to rotate his attackers to be a key asset as the season unfolds.

“We’ve got good options up front now,” said the Sunderland boss. “We’ve got Will and Charlie, who were obviously here last season, and we’ve added Danny and Aiden to that too.

“Obviously, the ideal is that you want somebody to really stake a claim and say, ‘I’m the man’. But I think when you’ve got options like we have, and especially once the games do start coming back-to-back, having that ability to change things around is going to be key.

“It’s an area of the pitch where we’ll probably be looking to freshen things up right the way through. I think the strength of the squad is going to be more important this season than any other, so to have those options is great for us.”

While a striker’s form is clearly a major factor in whether or not they are handed a starting spot, there is also an element of ‘horses for courses’ in Parkinson’s thinking as he ponders his selection for any given game.

The decision to start with Graham at the Kassam Stadium last weekend owed much to the presence of Robert Atkinson, who spent last season playing in the Conference with Eastleigh, in the Oxford back four.

Parkinson sensed an opportunity for Graham to exploit a potential weakness in the Us defence, and he readily admits his attacking selections are heavily influenced by the anticipated make-up of the opposition backline.

“We look at the opposition, the way they play and the strengths of their defenders, and go from there,” he explained. “We put Danny in last week because I felt his nous would give their young left-sided centre-back a problem.

“He’s a lad who had been playing in the Conference, and although he looks a good player, we felt Danny’s knowhow in terms of backing into him would give him a problem, and I felt he did that.

We’ll also look at how the players have done in the week, how they’ve looked in training, and then once we’ve put everything into the mix, we’ll pick the best combination to try to get a result on the weekend.”

Sunderland waved goodbye to Duncan Watmore and Kyle Lafferty at the end of last season, and in O’Brien and Graham, Parkinson feels he has secured signings who represent an upgrade on the players they have replaced.

“I just feel that if you look at the players that have left, then the ones that we’ve brought in have improved us,” he said. “I think they’re an improvement on the ones that have left, and we weren’t far off last year.

“We were on a very good run before the lockdown, taking away the last couple of games, but our intention in the summer was to try to step up on every player that left. Even if that improvement was only five per cent, if you bring in six players and improve every position by five per cent, then that could be the difference between us finishing sixth and us finishing at the top of the league, which is where we want to be.

“I feel we’ve done that. Other teams will probably feel the same, and I’d like to get the extra couple of players in to make us really strong, but I feel we’re starting to create a squad with good competition and also a strong mentality. That is key. You have to respond to setbacks, and the team with the character to do that will go a long way.”

Sunderland (probable, 3-4-3): Burge; Willis, Wright, Flanagan; O’Nien, Leadbitter, Scowen, Hume; Maguire, Grigg, O’Brien.