Reading are the visitors to Wearside this afternoon as Chris Coleman takes charge of Sunderland for the first time at the Stadium of Light.
Tis the second day to cross off the advent calendar, so Come All Ye Faithful to the Welsh revolution about to commence upon the banks of the Wear.
T’was an Englishman though who 250 years ago reputedly composed the music to the famous festive hymn beckoning the faithful to be joyful and triumphant - a chap aptly named John Reading, in fact...
The day trippers from Berkshire face their longest trip of the season to a part of the world where they’ve been infrequent guests over the years. Reading have only travelled to Sunderland nine times previously and won just twice - but they were never beaten in their four visits to Roker Park.
The last time the Royals beat the Black Cats in Sunderland, Dave Kitson bagged two goals to disrupt Mick McCarthy’s promotion party in April 2005. The two sides have since met a smattering of times in the Premier League, the pick of which came five years ago when Martin O’Neill engineered a 3-0 win.
Reading won’t be relishing the trek north. Chris Coleman’s appointment has lifted spirits amongst a fanbase who had sunk into the depths of despair after months without anything to cheer at the Stadium of Light.
The first goal will be crucial this afternoon, with Sunderland needing to banish the maddening tendency to begin games brightly at home only to concede before half time and face a slog of an afternoon thereafter.
Jaap Stam’s men have kept consecutive clean sheets, whilst the Black Cats managed their first of the season last time out. And though a win at Burton has Sunderland supporters looking upwards for the first time this season, Reading should prove to be a far stiffer test than last weekend’s opponents.
Coleman is without Lamine Kone and Didier Ndong, whilst Jonny Williams remains out alongside Duncan Watmore. James Vaughan is suspended meaning Sunderland’s success will largely hinge on Lewis Grabban continuing his fine goal scoring form.
Stam has a near-full squad to pick from, though he has no prolific goalscorer in his ranks. Reading’s leading marksman, midfielder Liam Kelly, has just four to his name whilst at the other end, the Stadium of Light welcomes back former goalkeeper Vito Mannone, who moved on in the summer.
The referee is Keith Stroud. The Dorset-based official is best known for bizarrely disallowing a Matt Richie penalty at St James Park last season when the Mags played Burton.
Likely line-up: Ruiter; Matthews; O’Shea; Browning; Oviedo; Cattermole; Gibson; Honeyman; McNair; McGeady; McManaman; Grabban
Predicted Score: Sunderland still have a heck of a way to improve before anyone will be convinced a turn-around is truly on the cards. Got a fancy for a 0-0 here. We haven’t had one for ages.