Nottingham Forest are the visitors this evening for the first game that feels like a must-win of Simon Grayson’s tenure.
Defeat will serve to ramp up the pressure on the Sunderland boss and his new crop of players with little respite as the games come thick and fast in another burst of Championship fixture congestion.
The Black Cats will play a further five matches in September after tonight’s game - four in the league with a trip to Everton in the League Cup sandwiched in the middle.
By then almost a quarter of the league campaign will be complete and we should have a reasonable idea of how this season is really going to pan out.
Some players are finding it difficult
Simon Grayson gave little away on Sunderland’s injury situation in his pre-match press conference but Lamine Kone, Lee Cattermole and Aiden McGeady can be considered doubtful. Others are reportedly suffering from knocks and will be assessed later today.
The boss suggested that some players are struggling to make headway as the Black Cats attracted fan ire on Saturday in one of the worst Sunderland performances seen at the Stadium of Light - a venue which has witnessed it’s fair share of awful showings:
Yeah there’s one or two finding it a bit difficult at this moment but these are good, honest players who will do whatever is required.
Forest are poor travellers
Sunderland haven’t faced Nottingham Forest since August 2008 and tonight’s visitors have never won at the Stadium of Light.
With the Black Cats in the midst of the second-longest run without a home league victory in the club’s history and Forest having lost eight of their last 10 Championship games on the road, forecasting tonight’s result is a tough one to call.
Barrie McKay is the one to watch in the opposition ranks tonight. The Scottish international linked up with Mark Warburton again in the summer after playing for the Forest boss at Glasgow Rangers. McKay has scored two and provided three assists already this season.
Forest are no great shakes and have lost their last two - against Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds - but they have knocked Newcastle out of the Carabao Cup and beaten Middlesbrough in the league already this season.
Former Sunderland midfielder David Vaughan is out injured while ex-Magpie Daryl Murphy will lead the Forest line.
One-time David Moyes target Jason Cummings might get a look-in up front and naturally should be reminded he picked the wrong club in the summer. Probably best to just boo all of Forest’s attackers then - oh and Jack Rodwell (only joking Simon - honest).
One up front and a packed midfield is the only way to go
Simon Grayson’s insistence on operating with two front men has cost Sunderland dear in recent games. Lacking punch in midfield and heaping pressure on a creaky back-line, opponents have exploited weaknesses in the Black Cats ranks with ease.
4-2-3-1 or 4-5-1 are the only way to go tonight and despite having a reasonable amount of the ball in recent weeks, Sunderland have undergone long spells in games creating little with a concerning frailty at the back.
Forest are questionable defensively too but after making decent enough starts in their recent fruitless displays, the Black Cats simply must keep things solid to avoid another kick in the knackers sucking the life out of the home crowd.
After Grayson apparently threw ten outfield players onto the pitch on Saturday and asked them to organise themselves, predicting tonight’s line-up is tricky - particularly with several injury concerns. Barring a surprise omission, it’ll look something like this:
Ruiter - Jones - O’Shea - Wilson - Oviedo - Cattermole - Ndong - McManaman - Wilson - Honeyman - Grabban
Prediction: It won’t be pretty and will resemble two old ladies fighting over the last seat at the bingo: 1-1 to Sunderland; a last-gasp draw will feel like sweet victory.