RR: Last time we spoke, you said that the players weren’t buying into Steve Cotterill’s methods and you couldn’t see things turning around. You’ve picked up a few decent results in the last month or so however, are opinions starting to change?
CP: Slowly! I think there has been an upward curve of enthusiasm from supporters, but that is more to do with the players’ efforts as opposed to any real change in the manager. Credit where credit is due to him though, he has gone back to basics, is playing our best players in their best positions and that has created a more positive environment around the club, however you feel we are only a couple of bad results away from the pressure being piled straight back onto him.
RR: How do you rate your chances of survival this season? No one is cut adrift and more teams are getting dragged in, it does seem pretty open.
CP: Certainly I am more optimistic now than I was at this point last month! I think you’re right though, I look at the table as it stands and would say anybody from Millwall in 15th downwards should still be concerned with going down, and there are teams like Hull, Reading and Barnsley that have been in poor form, and that gives the likes of us and yourselves confidence that two or three good results and you can reach these teams. We are definitely still in the mire, and we need to continue the decent run we have been on, but I think it’s more possible now than a month ago.
RR: You’re yet to make any signings this month, do you see that changing? If so, where will you be looking to strengthen?
CP: I wouldn’t be expecting a raft of players in this week, and if anyone does come in we are looking at loans and free transfers really. We have been offloading squad players, with Stephen Gleeson, Emilio Nsue and David Cotterill all leaving, but as yet there have been no signings made, which is concerning Blues fans. We are being linked with strikers, but I feel we are crying out for a midfielder who is comfortable on the ball to play alongside the likes of Kieftenbeld and Davis.
RR: On to the game and which players should Sunderland be worried about? Anyone in good form?
CP: Sam Gallagher is our main goal threat, and since he was moved from the left wing to play as a lone striker he has looked very strong and lively, scoring goals against yourselves, QPR, Burton and Preston. Jacques Maghoma has also played a starring role since Boxing Day, with goals against Leeds and Reading, and their link up play has been our main threat to teams. At the back, David Stockdale and newly appointed captain Harlee Dean have brought a solidity to what was a weak and fragile back line.
RR: And who in the Sunderland side is worrying you?
CP: Now Lewis Grabban has left, I think the main threat is the unknown in your two young forwards Asoro and Maja. Kazenga Lua Lua is a tricky player who has just signed and will be keen to impress, so I hope we are not complacent and plan for what these three can bring to the side.
RR: How do you expect Cotterill to approach this game and what do you think the starting line up will be?
CP: We have kept a much more regular starting eleven of late, and I don’t expect the side to be very different to recent league games. We play Huddersfield away in the cup on Saturday, but Cotterill has already stated changes will be made for this game, so I fully expect us to line up in a 4-3-2-1 system with Gallagher up top, and Maghoma and Jeremie Boga supporting him from wide areas. The midfield three will probably be Davis, Kieftenbeld and either Gardner or N’Doye depending on Gardner’s injury, and the back four will almost certainly be Colin, Roberts, Dean and Grounds with Stockdale in goal.
RR: And to finish, can we have a prediction please?
CP: I’m more optimistic than last month when I predicted a defeat! We have been stronger at home of late with the exception of losing to a very good Derby side, and there is definitely a more positive atmosphere at St Andrews. Knowing what a big game this is, I think the fans will get behind the team, and they will respond with a 2-1 victory, but I wish you all the best for the remainder of the season, and I hope we are playing each other again next season!