Looking spick and span, The Lads boarded a first class carriage for London and set off from Durham station yesterday afternoon. Whisked south aboard the finest rolling stock the East Coast Main Line has to offer, Simon Grayson’s men are in the former county of Middlesex this afternoon for a 3pm kick off.
Brentford’s Griffin Park is the venue for Sunderland’s 13th Championship fixture of the campaign. 1,300 lucky Black Cats fans will throng the slightly odd-looking Brook Road stand later today hoping for an upswing in fortune.
Rear guard will be key for Simon Grayson’s Sunderland today with no other side in the division conceding more on their travels. Shipping over two goals a game, the Black Cats simply must hit on a defensive system that keeps the opposition at bay sooner rather than later or the distant threat of relegation will draw nearer week by week.
On that note, centre-back Lamine Kone is available once more following his bout of illness whilst Tyias Browning and Marc Wilson will be assessed prior to the game.
After somehow proving he’s a better left-back than right-back last weekend against QPR, Adam Matthews will battle it out with Billy Jones and Bryan Oviedo for the two full-back berths.
With Simon Grayson bemoaning the limited availability of deadline day signing Jonny Williams this week, the centre of midfield will likely feature the uninspiring Lee Cattermole and Didier Ndong for another outing.
Opposition midfielder Ryan Woods has been heavily linked with a move to the Stadium of Light and the away fans can measure up the Brentford Ginger Pirlo as a potential heir to Lee Cattermole’s midfield throne this afternoon.
George Honeyman and Callum McManaman are the options on the right of midfield whilst Duncan Watmore and Aiden McGeady pick themselves as the support for either Lewis Grabban or James Vaughan up front.
The Bees have few fitness issues with only England U20 left-back Rico Henry and midfielder Alan Judge definitely ruled out. Striker Lasse Vibe is back after making his return in Brentford’s first home win of the season last weekend against the grotbags of Millwall.
Dean Smith’s side may be 18th in the table, just a few points ahead of Sunderland, but they are unbeaten in their last four and will be confident going into this one.
This afternoon’s game is the first league meeting between the two clubs since April 1993. The side’s shared a 1-1 draw that day with Terry Butcher on the field as the Sunderland player-manager attempting to save the Roker men from falling into Division Three.
That point would prove crucial and it was Brentford who ultimately succumbed to the drop into the third-tier a few weeks later, Sunderland staying up by virtue of a single point, one place ahead of the West Londoners.
With the present day Black Cats slumped in the Championship relegation zone, Sunderland are in the midst of a near-quarter of a century low for those old enough to reminisce about the bleak mid-90s and are desperate for a result this afternoon.
How much longer Simon Grayson can cling on surely depends entirely on picking up at least a point today followed by three at home against bottom side Bolton next weekend.
This isn’t the game to be risking experiments with systems or personnel so the Black Cats boss will no doubt stick with roughly the side who took to the pitch last time out bar a probable switch at the back and up front.
Likely line-up: Steele, Matthews, Kone, O’Shea, Oviedo, Cattermole, Ndong, Honeyman, McGeady, Watmore, Grabban.
Predicted score: 2-1 to Sunderland. We have to win one day. Why not today? (Don’t answer that!)