Mick McCarthy welcomes one of his former clubs to Portman Road tonight for a crucial game against Simon Grayson’s Sunderland, with both managers under differing degrees of pressure.
The Ipswich boss quietened question marks over his current tenure with a fighting performance at Elland Road on Saturday. The Tractor Boys provided table-toppers Leeds with a stern test and were competitive for ninety minutes, though it wasn’t enough to prevent a third defeat in four games.
Meanwhile, Black Cats boss Simon Grayson has two tricky away trips to get a couple of results to avoid heading into the end of September international break with Sunderland fans in full revolt.
With Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Cardiff played out in front of the lowest home crowd in over a decade, Sunderland supporters are voting with their feet at an alarming rate.
Not since the lingering wake following McCarthy’s Premier League relegation season on Wearside has the north east footballing public turned its back on the Stadium of Light in such large numbers.
Tonight’s two teams haven’t met since January 2007 after a certain Roy Keane had arrived at Sunderland to begin restoring some pride. That game ended with a home win at the Stadium of Light, David Connolly bagged the only goal of the match.
The current crop of Sunderland players weren’t necessarily ‘bad’ on Saturday but crucially lacked the killer instinct and resolve to compete with a physical Cardiff side.
With Simon Grayson bemoaning his team’s poor decision-making and ease with which opponents are waltzing away with the spoils, the clock is more than likely ticking on his tenure.
Despite recruiting a manager with supposed EFL nous, this current crop of Black Cats players have yet to suss out the nature of second-tier football.
Of Saturday’s line-up, only Adam Matthews, James Vaughan and Aiden McGeady have any recent Championship experience and the rest of Sunderland’s players require bringing up to speed on playing down here - and quick.
No such issues exist amongst McCarthy’s Ipswich lads though their gaffa continues to nark the Suffolk fan base with occasional odd team selection and a lack of entertainment on the pitch.
MickMac has faced a Sunderland side on just four occasions since his 2006 departure from the Stadium of Light. Continuing to largely ply his trade in English football’s second-tier, the 58-year-old’s flirtations back in the Premier League with Wolves were the only times we saw him on Wearside with any fleeting regularity in recent years.
McCarthy has never lost a home fixture to a visiting team from Sunderland and former Black Cat Martyn Waghorn is worth a punt at odds of 2/1 to score and return to haunt his old club’s decision not to re-sign him in the summer. The ex-Rangers man has featured in a variety of positions across the Ipswich front line this season, stepping into midfield when called upon.
Ipswich employed a back-three in their most recent home game but McCarthy has tended to go with a 4-4-2 variation in the majority of games and has goalscorers to pick from - with Joe Garner hitting four so far this term to match Waghorn and main man David McGoldrick whacking in five.
The Tractor Boys have few injury concerns though their boss may freshen things up a little after that intense duel with Leeds at the weekend.
Over 600 Sunderland fans will be housed in Portman Road’s Cobbold Stand this evening and Simon Grayson desperately needs a lift ahead of his return to Preston - the club he ditched in favour of the Black Cats - this weekend.
Likely Lineup: Ruiter; Matthews; Kone; Wilson; Oviedo; Cattermole; Ndong; Honeyman; McGeady; Gooch, Vaughan.
Prediction: Ipswich 2-0 Sunderland. Grayson’s men simply can’t keep a clean sheet and Sunderland goals from open play are rarer than an enjoyable Ed Sheeran song (he’s an Ipswich fan).