Anyone who listened to this week’s edition of the Roker Rapport Xtra Podcast would have heard Shrewsbury fan Glyn speak of his fear that his side are probably going to be on the receiving end of a battering from Sunderland, and we can only hope that his premonition will come true when Jack Ross and his side arrive at New Meadow this afternoon.
This isn’t the same side that were one goal from earning promotion to the Championship in May, but they’re still very capable of frustrating decent teams and it’d be foolish of Sunderland to take that for granted.
Through some good luck and solid defending the Shrews have managed to pick up decent results against other teams gunning for promotion this season, with Portsmouth, Doncaster, Accrington and Walsall all failing to take maximum points from their meetings with John Askey’s team.
That said, the Salop manager remains under serious pressure and, in the aftermath of their sixth defeat of the season to Fleetwood last weekend, some supporters have called for the former Macclesfield gaffer to go. Another loss, this time at the hands of Sunderland, could have the Shrewsbury board already questioning their recent appointment.
The state of play...
Shrewsbury travelled to Fleetwood Town last weekend, whilst Sunderland’s game at Blackpool was postponed due to international call-ups. Walsall also had a weekend off, meaning that Luton were the only side in the top ten not to pick up maximum points. Within that group, Fleetwood beat our opponents today 2-1.
Those results saw Sunderland slip to fifth, four points off Peterborough and seven off Portsmouth, who occupy the automatic promotion spots. Shrewsbury, meanwhile, are 17th after just two wins from their opening 13 games. They have only conceded 13 goals, which is on a par with Sunderland but unlike the Wearsiders - who have scored 24 times - The Shrews have struggled at the other end, scoring just 11 so far this season.
A win today in front of another sell-out away following could see Sunderland climb back to third if Charlton record a home win over Barnsley and Gillingham take something from their trip to Doncaster.
Sunderland have played Shrewsbury Town nine times - eight in league games in the second tier of English football, and once in the League Cup. Sunderland have won 7 and drawn 2 of those encounters.
The last league meeting was 29 years ago, on April 22nd, 1989, when Sunderland beat Town 2-1 at Roker Park. Sunderland’s last league visit to Shrewsbury was earlier in the season, on September 24th 1988, which ended in a 0-0 stalemate.
The last competitive game between the sides, however, came in the League Cup just two years ago, when a sole Adnan Januzaj strike - his only goal in a red and white shirt - sealed victory for David Moyes’ side.
The Gaffer says...
[Shrewsbury] got so close to achieving promotion that there’s going to be a little bit of a hangover from that. They had the challenge of losing Paul [Hurst] to Ipswich and losing important players as well. So, there was a certain element of rebuilding and I think for John and the new squad he’s built, it does take time, it isn’t easy.
So, I think they’ll be frustrated that they haven’t managed to quite continue that momentum from last season, but equally they’re still a good side. They proved that with the success they had last year over the course of the season. I mentioned earlier, but it’s another difficult game for us; every single game is.
We know that to expect; the fact that we’re going to a good stadium, a big pitch, these things are helpful for us. I’m looking forward to going to another venue where I haven’t been.
We go into an important week knowing that if we continue in the manner of the performances that we have done and keep producing positive results then we’re going to stay at least where we are and hopefully then progress upwards again.
Jack Ross has a few decisions to make for today’s team selection, not least whether to stick with the recent switch to 4-2-3-1 or revert to wing-backs now Lynden Gooch is available following injury. Sunderland, however, will still be without the likes of Duncan Watmore, Charlie Wyke, Donald Love, Glenn Loovens, Denver Hume and Ethan Robson through injury, whilst Bryan Oviedo and Max Power are both suspended.
Jon McLaughlin will come back into the side following Robbin Ruiter’s Checkatrade appearance against Carlisle, whilst Tom Flanagan will similarly return from international duty ready to take his place in defence. Alim Öztürk will drop to the bench, meaning Sunderland’s defensive personnel will be as we were at Bradford, with Adam Matthews, Jack Baldwin and Reece James completing the line-up.
In midfield Ross has a number of decisions. Max Power will miss out as he serves the first game of his suspension following his red card at Bradford. Ross can call upon Bali Mumba, Luke O’Nien or Dylan McGeough to replace the former Wigan man. It is likely that the Scot will get the nod to partner Lee Cattermole in the heart of Sunderland’s midfield this afternoon.
Lynden Gooch is back from his slight niggle and comes into contention for a start if Ross opts to play wing-backs. This would see Sunderland revert to a back three and allow Gooch and James to flank the central midfield pair, whilst releasing Aiden McGeady and Chris Maguire to support Josh Maja in attack.
However, the American may have to settle for a place on the bench if Ross maintains his 4-2-3-1 formation. In that case, it is likely that George Honeyman - who impressed on his return to the side against Carlisle - will return in the number ten role behind free-scoring Josh Maja, leaving Jerome Sinclair on the bench.
As has been mentioned, the Shrewsbury side we face today may be a far cry from the one that missed out in last season’s League One Play-Off Final. Having started the season without a win in their first eight games, John Askey has turned a slight corner in the past month. A 2-0 home win over Southend on September 15th and a 2-2 draw in their next home game against Gillingham had The Shrews entering October in a far more positive state.
This month, a draw at seventh-placed Walsall, another home win - this time over sixth-placed Accrington Stanley - and a 6-0 Checkatrade thrashing of Tranmere have lifted the gloom, particularly at home. Last week’s defeat at Fleetwood may have put Askey back under pressure, but you have to return to August 14th, when Burton won 2-1, to find the last time Shrewsbury lost at home.
In fact, the Shrews have taken 75% of their points at home and boast the best defensive home record in the division, conceding just four goals at the New Meadow. This is not a game Sunderland can take for granted and the Lads will have to work hard for the three points today.
Talking ahead of this weekend’s game, Askey called on his players to rise to the occasion and perform when up against the biggest team in the league:
The one thing is that I don’t think it’ll need much of a team talk. It’s a game that supporters and players are looking forward to. But for us it’s just another game, that’s what players have got to realise.
We’ve got to go out there, stop them playing and play ourselves. If we start thinking they’re better than what they are then we’ll have problems. It’s not as though they’re going home and away and winning four and five every week. They haven’t found it easy.
As a player this is why you play football, for games like tomorrow. I’ll see who can handle it and who can’t. We hope that playing in front of a big crowd makes players play better.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
It’s yet another away-day sell-out for Sunderland fans, but audio commentary will be provided by Nick Barnes from around 2pm on both BBC Newcastle and the club website.
For international supporters, you’ll be able to pick up a match pass to watch a live stream from SAFSee right now - they’re priced at the very reasonable sum of £5.99.
We’ll also be providing live commentary via our Twitter page and, after the game, there’ll be a match report and player ratings article on the site - so keep an eye out for that.