Bradford City have not had the best of starts this season. Two wins - one on opening day and one on Tuesday evening - have sandwiched a run of eight defeats and a draw. The Bantams have already replaced their head coach, bringing in former Livingston manager David Hopkin back in September.
A manager well-known to Jack Ross, today’s game will pit the Scots against each other as they both seek to improve their club’s results.
For Sunderland, it is a case of improving on the run of draws in September and into this week. An improved performance midweek failed to mask the need for Ross and his training staff to find a way of keeping clean sheets. Whilst creating and scoring chances hasn’t been a particular issue this season, Sunderland have kept only one clean sheet since August.
A seven point gap has opened up between Sunderland and the league leaders, Portsmouth. We also remain four points adrift of Peterborough, in the second automatic position. If Sunderland are to realise their ambitions of immediate promotion, games like today’s at Bradford have to be seen as golden opportunities to build defensive confidence and close the gap to those sides now ahead of us.
The Gaffer says...
Tuesday night was one of those where I enjoyed it. I was obviously frustrated that we didn’t win the game, but there were so many good things about our performance at different times of the game.
I’ve said often enough, I do feel as if we’re getting better and I think Tuesday night was another sign of that. We’re obviously scoring regularly, it’s just important that we then improve, as a team, defensively. We feel at the moment that clean sheets will win us games because of how many goals we’ve scored.
I think they understand that they are improving individually and as a team and they believe that they’re on the cusp of putting together a really good run of results. I think we all feel as if it’s getting ever closer.
[Bradford] had a good result during the week away from home, which will help them as well. It’s still early days under their new manager. But, again, looking forward to it and I think the group of players on the back of large parts of Tuesday nights performance, are in a good place.
Jack Ross was very pleased about the way his side approached the game on Tuesday, and, had it not been for the sending off of Bryan Oviedo at 1-0, the change in formation and personnel may have secured three points against a fellow promotion rival.
Even then, to regain the lead before being ultimately pegged back a second time showed a strength of character from Ross’ Sunderland.
Today will be another interesting dilemma for the Scot. Does he stick with the side that impressed in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with the obvious change at left-back, or does he revert to the wing-back formation that was present prior to Tuesday evening?
Perhaps with Lynden Gooch and Glenn Loovens still unavailable, Ross will persist with the tactics that served Sunderland so well against Peterborough. The one change will likely be Reece James in for the suspended Bryan Oviedo, with young Denver Hume now on the treatment table. The former Wigan man is a strong replacement, however, and will undoubtedly benefit from a run in the side.
The midfield will present Ross with his biggest dilemma. Against Peterborough both captain-for-the-night Max Power and Scottish international Dylan McGeough did little wrong. But with Lee Cattermole available and playing so well in recent weeks, will Ross make a change in the engine room?
Chris Maguire was, again, outstanding on Tuesday as he shifted to the right hand side. Aiden McGeady made his full return and lasted the entire 90 minutes.
Will both line-up once more, or will Tuesday have taken its toll on the returning Republic of Ireland star? If George Honeyman has been passed fit following a concussion sustained in training, the captain will give Jack Ross further options.
Up front, Jerome Sinclar and Josh Maja both found the scoresheet against Peterborough. Given Bradford’s form this season, they could well add to their tallies if selected this afternoon.
David Hopkin became Bradford City’s new head coach after signing a two-year deal in early September, following the sacking of Michael Collins.
Collins presided over the Bantam’s opening six games, which had left City 17th in League One. Despite starting the season with a 1-0 away win at Shrewsbury, Bradford lost their next five games, prompting the early change in management.
Hopkin lost his first three games in charge, but gained his first point last weekend with a draw at home to Bristol Rovers. The Bantams followed that up with a win on Tuesday evening, beating Wimbledon 1-0 as Jack Payne came off the bench to score a penalty.
The Yorkshire side sit in 19th place, a mere point from the relegation places, but despite their position, Hopkin is determined to build on last week’s results when the two sides meet at the Northern Commercials Stadium this afternoon.
We are where we are and need to come up with a system to suit the players that are available. We need to move the team about and see what we can come up with.
It’s going to be a tough challenge but I’m sure we’ve got players who can adapt to different systems for how I want to play.
Hopefully we can make it difficult for Sunderland and still try to win the game. I’m not going to be negative.
We’re at home and the fans will play a massive part. If they can get right behind us, that will give the players that extra 10 per cent in the game.
Injury & Suspension News
Lynden Gooch is expected to sit out for the trip to West Yorkshire following his injury last Saturday. And while the American is hoping to resume training next week, both Denver Hume and Glenn Loovens are out for a while longer after being withdrawn during the draw at Coventry City.
Luke O’Nien, who missed the midweek game due to illness, is a doubt for today, whilst Duncan Watmore and former Bradford striker Charlie Wyke remain our long-term absentees.
Lee Cattermole has served his one-match ban and comes back into contention today, whilst Bryan Oviedo begins his three-game suspension after his sending off against Peterborough on Tuesday evening.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Sunderland have sold out their allocation for today’s game but, fear not - you can catch it via the SAFC.com website (if you are abroad, that is).
Audio commentary will be provided by Nick Barnes from around 2pm on both BBC Newcastle and tbe club website.
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.