Sunderland travel to Preston this afternoon for the first time in over a decade. The two sides last met on Lancashire turf in January 2007 for an FA Cup tie but you have to go back to October 2006 for the last league match at Deepdale between the pair.
Both those most recent games finished with a Preston victory. Former Black Cat Danny Dichio was on the scoresheet for the opposition in the Championship fixture as the Lilywhites romped to a 4-1 win whilst Brett Ormerod got the winner in the cup tie.
Much will be made of Simon Grayson’s return to a side he was in charge of for more than four years, but the Lilywhites have firmly put the summer managerial upheaval behind them to climb to fifth in the Championship under new boss Alex Neil.
Grayson, on the other hand, arrives back at his old stomping ground with sections of the Sunderland support already doubting his ability to resurrect the never ending slump at the Stadium of Light.
The 47-year old’s recent comments about avoiding relegation being no certainty and the Wearside faithful simply “crawling out of the woodwork” to have a go at him have little helped his cause as this ridiculous club continues to make every bad situation it can find significantly worse.
With only one win from Grayson’s opening ten Championship games in charge of the Black Cats, the supposed old hand at second tier management has his work cut out to arrest a worsening situation at Sunderland with the latest low coming in a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Ipswich on Tuesday night.
Alex Neil may have built on a Grayson team but his side have a steely resolve lacking from their opponents this afternoon, having lost just once this season while conceding a measly four goals in the league.
By contrast, Sunderland have shipped more goals than everyone else in the Championship bar bottom side Bolton and a defence which simply cannot stop itself from making alarming errors is likely to contain current derided individuals Jason Steele and Lamine Kone this afternoon.
Grayson hinted he retains faith in the goalkeeper he signed from Blackburn in the summer and with deadline day signing, centre-back Marc Wilson, out after suffering a groin injury, his Ivorian defensive colleague is likely to continue at the heart of Sunderland’s back line.
Steele has been the victim of much social media derision for his trout-flopping impressions at Portman Road midweek whilst Kone was directly responsible for both of Cardiff’s goals at the Stadium of Light last weekend.
Continuing the theme of summer signings with niggles, Sunderland men Jonny Williams and Callum McManaman are considered ‘doubts’ but Duncan Watmore may make his long-awaited return from nine months out at some stage in proceedings today.
Neil has a stable enough squad from which to select with no fresh injury concerns from last time out when his side beat Hull City at the KCOM.
Sunderland fans haven’t seen the former Norwich boss since he was shown his arse by Sam Allardyce at Carrow Road in April 2016 but the Black Cats have been on the decline ever since and there will be an air of trepidation amongst the near-3,000 travelling army from Wearside for this afternoon’s round of reunions.
Attacking man Tom Barkhuizen will be one to watch in white later. The Grayson signing has 3 goals and a pair of assists so far this season whilst supposed Sunderland summer target Jordan Hugill has hit just two this term.
Tricky to predict the Sunderland line-up this afternoon after Grayson’s recent relentless meddling but a flat back four is likely. The Black Cats shaping up with players operating in their strongest positions would make a refreshing change too.
Steele; Matthews; Kone; Browning; Oviedo; Ndong; Cattermole; McManaman; Williams; McGeady; Vaughan
Preston don’t concede and Sunderland do. Preston don’t score much but Sunderland score less. 1-0 to the Sunderland - naturally. The sizeable Wearside contingent will roar the Lads in light blue to a much needed victory.