Without a home win in nine months, failure to find a way past Cardiff City this afternoon will extend Sunderland’s record-breaking 280 days without a Stadium of Light victory by a further three weeks.
Today’s 3pm kick-off on Wearside precedes two away games before another international break delays the Black Cats next home fixture to 14th October; and the longer that run continues, the greater the pressure heaped upon Simon Grayson and the club in general.
With Sunderland firmly in crisis mode, the Black Cats’ boss gave little away in his pre-match press conference and a win this afternoon is simply essential to get this faltering Championship campaign back on track.
Victory over Neil Warnock’s third place side will have Sunderland fans looking upwards whilst defeat may see Grayson firmly entrenched in the second-tier relegation places ahead of tricky trips to Ipswich and Preston North End.
Grayson reckons his side have improved in their last two league outings and should have been rewarded with more than a solitary point for showings against Nottingham Forest and Hull City whilst Neil Warnock arrives with his team not playing especially well of late but still managing to pick up two points from their last three to keep them level with league leaders Wolves and Leeds.
In previewing the game for WalesOnline, Cardiff legend Nathan Blake reckons he wouldn’t be surprised to see Sunderland in League One next season such is the rank malaise round here, and the Blue Birds will see this trip as a great chance to re-establish their early campaign promotion credentials.
Cardiff come with a boisterous resolve to match their manager Warnock’s sheer front whilst Sunderland boss Grayson could really do with sticking his own chest out and stamping a mark on the Stadium of Light this afternoon.
Today’s encounter is the first second-tier fixture between the two sides since 2006 when Cardiff stole away from Wearside with a 2-1 win courtesy of a Michael Chopra brace.
Grayson’s managerial record against the Bluebirds makes dismal reading - registering just one victory in 12 attempts; but that did come in a 3-0 Preston win last September. The sides most recently faced each other in 2014 with Gus Poyet celebrating a 4-0 Premier League victory over Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Sunderland will receive a boost if Aiden McGeady can pass a late fitness test and even just grab a spot on the bench whilst John O’Shea and Marc Wilson are doubts in the heart of the Black Cats defence.
Leading scorer Lewis Grabban remains sidelined meaning James Vaughan will continue to head the Sunderland attack. Cardiff’s man to watch is striker Kenneth Zohore who has managed more shots on target than any other player in the Championship this season.
Jason Steele was alright enough in goal at Everton midweek, but most will expect Robbin Ruiter to retain his place between the sticks. Grayson selected three right-backs at Goodison - much to widespread mirth - but surely the method behind the madness was in order to pick his ‘best’... wasn’t it? Has Matthews done enough to retain his place?
Predicted XI: Ruiter; Matthews, Kone, Wilson; Oviedo; McManaman, Cattermole, Ndong, Williams, Honeyman; Vaughan
Scorecast: 1-0: Sunderland simply have to win a game at the Stadium of Light in 2017 - statistics demand it, don’t they?