Sunderland travel to Humberside with the boos from two successive home defeats in the last seven days ringing in their ears to face a Hull City side looking to get their season back on track at fortress KCOM.
The Tigers have been good at home this season, scoring ten goals in front of their own fans from three outings.
Neither side have set the Championship alight following relegation from the Premier League but the Black Cats run of four successive defeats has them priced at an unfancied 3/1 for the win. Hull are odds on at the bookies to overcome the visitors.
Sunderland haven’t won a game on the road in September for over a decade. Not since Roy Keane took charge of his second game in 2006 in a trip to Leeds have the travelling cats returned to Wearside with three points in the second month of the season.
But a return to the KCOM has Sunderland back at the scene of one of last season’s rare victories. A surprise two-goal May win in response to sealing their own relegation fate the week before had David Moyes’ side virtually confirm Marco Silva’s own drop into the Championship.
Two contrasting budget summers
The Tigers supposedly considered Black Cats boss Simon Grayson as a contender to replace Silva in the KCOM dugout before opting for Russian Leonid Slutsky. That both of today’s sides considered the former Preston budget-man before Sunderland finally landed him was a hint at what lay ahead for each club in the transfer market.
With Sunderland bringing in ten new faces for a combined £1.25m, Hull fans can consider their own austerity measures as somewhat less stringent than those applied at the Stadium of Light. The owning Allam family allowed Slutsky to spend around half of the £27m brought in for Sam Clucas and Harry Maguire to invest in the Tigers squad.
And whilst both today’s sides moved on their biggest names in the summer, Sunderland chose to reinvest little whilst Hull afforded their boss a modest budget to bring in Kevin Stewart from Liverpool and Nouha Dicko up front amongst others.
Promotion chances after relegation churn
Neither of this afternoon’s sides look to be presenting much of a bid to bounce back into the Premier League at the first time of asking. Sticking money on the pair to finish the season in the automatic promotion places would net a decent return with Hull presently rated at 14/1 and Sunderland 20/1 to go up this term.
With his side slumped in the bottom half of the table, Simon Grayson hinted in his match preview that the turnover of personnel at the Stadium of Light might render this campaign as little more than a work in progress:
If you look back in history, there aren’t many teams that have got promoted at the first time of asking after a relegation...
Everybody takes time to adjust but the ultimate goal is promotion. There’s a big changeover. Very rarely do clubs keep the majority of their players so its a time where your best payers leave the club to balamce the books, you do lose revenue through many different areas and takes time for everyone to adjust to.
Meanwhile new Hull boss Slutsky reckons he has already seen the best sides the second-tier has on offer whilst Sunderland should still prove his side with a test:
The Championship is really very difficult. I think Wolves, Derby and Fulham are the top three sides in the quality of their matches.
It’s the same situation with Sunderland, they have not had a good start but they have a good squad and really I think they have a similar situation to us. A lot of players left, a lot have come in and of course the building process continues here and in Sunderland.
Line-ups - solidity or another experiment?
Hull will likely set up with a back three this afternoon in a 3-4-3, seeking to exploit Sunderland’s rearguard which is always capable of a critical mistake.
Summer signing Jackson Irvine may make his full debut whilst striker Jarrod Bowen is the man to watch up front. The 20-year-old was the Championship Player of the Month for August and has five goals to his name.
The ageing legs of Sebastian Larsson will be in and around the Tigers starting eleven, though Slutsky may have seen enough of the former Black Cats stalwart after trying to use him as a box-to-box midfielder recently for a laugh.
Sunderland are without top scorer Lewis Grabban, meaning Simon Grayson will have to shuffle like hell to find a way of hitting the back of the Hull net.
The Black Cats boss may fancy matching Slutsky’s back-three, with Lamine Kone set to be fit to start this game and Bryan Oviedo now firmly back in the side, but after last week’s failed bid at a 3-5-2 combo, Grayson will likely play it safe with a flat back four and packed midfield supporting James Vaughan up front.
Aiden McGeady should be in line to start and if Sunderland can find a way to get the Republic of Ireland winger and new boy Callum McManaman unleashed, they may be able to pose a greater threat going forward than in recent weeks.
Likely line-up: Ruiter; Matthews; Kone; Wilson; Oviedo; Ndong; Cattermole; McManaman; Williams; Honeyman; Vaughan.
Prediction: 1-1 - Cometh the hour, cometh the man - James Vaughan must surely be due a first goal of the season for Sunderland. Mustn’t he?