Jack Ross has previously indicated that an average of two points per game over the entirety of our League One campaign would be enough to end the season with Sunderland primed for an immediate return to the Championship. After Tuesday’s win at Doncaster the Lads are on course, with 29 points gains from our first 14 games.
Today’s opponents won’t make life easy for the home side, but Sunderland have been in a rich vein of form this month. Backed by sell-out away ends, the Lads return home with nine points from three away games, with two clean-sheets to boot. Today the fans will be right behind the team, but may need to be patient as Southend will be a stern test upon our return.
The Shrimpers have won their last three away games, whilst we have drawn three of our last four home games.
The state of play...
Sunderland remain third in the League One table following the successful trip to Doncaster, whilst Southend’s 3-0 home win over Walsall sees them sit six points behind us in ninth.
Boasting four wins and two draws in our last six games, with League One’s best goal difference of +14, Sunderland return home in confident mood. However, Southend will provide a stern test for Ross’ team this afternoon.
Chris Powell took charge of Southend last January and immediately turned their fortunes around. The Shrimpers were 20th when he took over, but his 18-games in charge saw them climb the table to finish the season in 10th spot.
This season, he began the campaign in reasonable style, with two wins and a draw from August’s five league games. A poor run of form in early September saw Southend lose three league games on the bounce, before turning it around with victory over Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town.
That win revived the Blues, who took maximum points from games against Wycombe, Burton and Gillingham whilst drawing with Oxford as September turned to October. Their five-game unbeaten run in the league came to end against Coventry City last weekend, but Tuesday’s 3-0 home win suggests the Coventry result was more a blip than reason for concern.
Today’s game promises to be an intriguing one where the Black Cats will need to be at their best in order to claim all three points.
It may surprise you to know that Sunderland have played Southend United 14 times down the years. The head-to-head stats show Sunderland have won eight times to Southend’s six. There has never been a draw in this fixture.
We first came across The Shrimpers when we were both third division sides in the 1987-88 season. Sunderland hosted the first game at Roker Park on November 3rd, where just under 16,000 fans saw the home side win 7-0. It was our highest win of the season, with Eric Gates grabbing four, a brace for Paul Atkinson and the customary Marco Gabbiadini goal.
The return leg at Roots Hall saw the Lads complete the double over the Kentish side. A John MacPhail penalty after five minutes began the 4-1 win, with further goals from Paul Lemon, Marco Gabbiadini and Colin Pascoe.
Since then we have played Southend as a second-tier fixture over six seasons. In the 1991-92 season Southend did the double over Sunderland, but for the next three seasons the away side had a habit of winning these fixtures. In 1995-96 Sunderland broke the trend, beating Southend 1-0 at home and 2-0 away, as Peter Reid’s side won promotion as Champions in his first full season on Wearside.
We wouldn’t meet again until the 2006-07 season, when the honours went to the home side on both occasions. Our last meeting was played at the Stadium of Light, when goals from David Connolly, Tobias Hysen and Stern John (2) secured victory for Roy Keane’s Championship winning side.
Eleven years on, a repeat of that scoreline would certainly help Jack Ross’ side in their own quest for promotion.
The Gaffer says...
We are in a good place, on a good run, and to have lost only one of our first 14 games is good.
I don’t think anybody in the dressing room would be concerned about not being in the top two at this stage. We’ll get there sooner or later if we keep on doing the things we are doing at the moment.
I think there is a group of players here who are enjoying winning. They are absolutely loving the feeling of winning games, and especially in the manner they did [on Tuesday] because that was tough. I think you could see from everyone involved and from the supporters, how much they enjoyed that type of win.
We have another challenging fixture on Saturday. Just because we’re at home it doesn’t all of a sudden make the fixture easier than the ones we’ve faced in the last three games.
Southend are a team who are having a good season to date and their recent form is very good in terms of the last six games. So, we know it’s a tough match for us, each and every team that have came to the Stadium of Light has produced good performance as well.
So, if they do that again on Saturday it means that we have to play well again to win the game.
Jack Ross has confirmed that Glenn Loovens only returned to training on Thursday so won’t come into contention today. Bryan Oviedo, however, is available after completing his suspension and will offer Ross an option in defence.
Given the way the back four have performed recently, with two clean sheets and three consectutive away wins, there is little need to tinker. Whilst the Costa Rican may have to settle for a place on the bench as Reece James won’t give up his spot without a fight, Loovens, too, will find his return blocked by the form of Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin.
The defence have been resolute on the road during October and, when the odd poor decision is made, Jon McLaughlin has shown a safe pair of hands in the Sunderland goal. Twice on Tuesday, the Scottish international rescued his defence with important saves as half-time approached, but those incidents aside, the team defended well.
A consistent back four have been shielded by Lee Cattermole and Dylan McGeough. With Max Power still suspended, the duo will continue today. McGeough’s ability to retain possession and keep the ball moving is a key component in Ross’ style of play, whilst Lee Cattermole continues to break up opposition attacks. The partnership continues to develop and will be a critical component again this afternoon.
With Josh Maja’s return to training following his midweek absence, Ross has a call to make up front. No doubt the nine-goal striker will be in the squad, but there is a case to play him from the bench today. Jerome Sinclair worked hard on Tuesday and his recent performances show he is worthy of retaining his spot today. Maja’s introduction later in the game could be a key decision, just as we saw the impact of Lynden Gooch coming on against Shrewsbury last saturday.
George Honeyman’s return to the starting eleven at Doncaster provided a solid midfield three and that formation will be required today to match Southend’s favoured 4-3-3 line-up. With a bank of five likely to operate when Sunderland have possession, Ross will need to call on craft and guile, as well as combative qualities. Gooch’s direct running and Chris Maguire’s skills will be key to unlocking the Southend defensive lines.
Similarly, Ross could reinstate Aiden McGeady to the side, although the Irishman could be an equally effective weapon to introduce when legs tire later in the game.
Chris Powell was appointed manager at the turn of the year. The former Blues left back signed a two-and-a-half year deal to replace Phil Brown, who had been at Roots Hall for the previous five years and had brought Southend back into League One. Languising near the bottom of the league, the change was made and the Shrimpers found form worthy of a top six side under Powell.
Powell had previously made 290 appearances for Southend during a six-year stint with The Blues and was welcomed back as one of their own. This season, he has continued to develop the bond as manager with the fans and taken Southend into the top ten.
Like Sunderland, Southend have won their last three games on the road. However, the Blues will be without Harry Lennon, after he fractured his leg against Walsall, whilst top goalscorer Tom Hopper is doubtful, having been withdrawn with a knee injury in the first half on Tuesday.
Powell is looking forward to the game, following their 3-0 midweek win:
It was a good display on Tuesday so we’ve got to take confidence from that and what we’ve done on the road.
It’s another test for us and one we know that will be tricky, but actually it’s a game that should inspire us.
We’re going to a place which has seen Premier League football. They’re trying to re-build themselves as a football club but as I say to the players bring it on and let’s get on with it.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Audio commentary will be provided by Nick Barnes from around 2pm on both BBC Newcastle and the club website.
The game is also available via the Match Pass stream for international supporters. Full details can be found on SAFC.com.
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.