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MATCH PREVIEW: 3 points & a slice of luck would send Sunderland top of League One; can we do it?

Three points and results elsewhere going our way would see Sunderland go top of League One today - but standing in our path are Plymouth, a side who despite their lowly position are in good form. Will we win again?

Plymouth Argyle v Swindon Town - Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Southern Section Second Round Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Jack Ross knows his counterpart Derek Adams well from their playing days in Scotland. The Sunderland manager spoke highly of his opposite number in this week’s press conference, but will be keen to put one over his fellow Scotsman this afternoon.

Sunderland quickly sold out their allocation of 1,200 tickets for the 804-mile round trip and will provide vocal backing for the Black Cats once more. Such is the current run of results that expectations are high, especially given the home side’s precarious league position, but as Ross knows all too well, there are no easy games for Sunderland this season.


The Gaffer says...

This league is quite intriguing because the teams that you’ve either faced to date or you come against, their form or position can change dramatically as well.

Maybe six weeks ago, people would have pointed to us maybe not have playing teams in top half. If you look now, we’ve probably played a lot of them because some of those teams, like Coventry who were obviously bottom half and have been on an outstanding run that takes them top half, and people look at them in a different way.

Plymouth have endured a difficult season but results recently have been good and positive.

They’ve won the last two games and have played the same team in the same way in those two games, so for my sake in terms of preparation, I hope they do the same.

Everything I’ve seen of them, the manner in which they were playing when they weren’t getting results was fairly open and expansive and I’ve always felt like those types of opposition have suited us better this season.

For our players, I think they’re absolutely loving playing football at the moment and they’re desperate to get back on the pitch and play and continue to bang out positive results.

The players trained brilliantly this morning and it was one of those sessions as a manager when you think; “I’ve got a right good squad here”. They were just really at it and I think that’s just reflected from how they feel at the moment.

Whether we’ve played poorly or well, drawn, won or lost, there’s been the same consistency in our approach.

Saturday will be the same and every away game I’ve mentioned before has been challenging and this one obviously becomes even more challenging because of the logistics involved in travelling.

Jack Ross is looking for our fourth away win in succession
Image: Getty Images

Head-to-Head...

Sunderland have met Plymouth 27 times in our history, including three FA cup ties which were all won by Sunderland. To date, the Black Cats have recorded 15 wins and 4 draws, with Plymouth coming out on top 8 times. Today’s game will ensure we have played The Pilgrims in every decade since the Fifties.

All our league encounters have come in the second tier of English football and date back to the 1959-60 season. During the Sixties we played The Pilgrims for five consecutive seasons until our promotion to Division One in 1964.

During the Seventies we played in the same division only once. Plymouth’s promotion from Division Three in 1975 saw the two sides meet again, but with Sunderland achieving promotion at the end of the 1975-76 season, the acquaintance was short-lived.

In the Eighties, we played each other during the 1986-87, 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons. We re-joined Plymouth in Division Two in 1991-92, following our brief stay in Division One under Denis Smith, but that would be our only season together during the Nineties.

During the twenty-first century we have contested only four games and shared the honours in both seasons. During the 2004-5 the home side claimed victory, whilst during the 2006-7 season the away side took the points. Daryl Murphy and Stephen Elliott scored in a 2-3 defeat at the Stadium of Light in August 2006, whilst Anthony Stokes and David Connolly scored in a 2-0 win at Home Park in February 2007 - the last time these sides met.

Anthony Stokes came off the bench to score with his first touch at Home Park in Feb 2007
Photo by Patrick Bolger/Getty Images

The state of play...

Sunderland travel the length of the country protecting an eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions and boasting a trio of wins on the road during October. As we start the new month, Jack Ross will be looking to continue those runs and put further pressure on the automatic promotion spots.

Peterborough sit a point ahead of The Lads, whilst Portsmouth are three points clear of Sunderland. Given that the league’s best goal difference resides on Wearside, victory today coupled with a win for Bradford over the current leaders and Peterborough’s failure to beat Wycombe would see Sunderland take top spot.

Plymouth, meanwhile, will be hoping back-to-back wins can be a platform to securing points today to lift them out of the relegation zone. Wins over Scunthorpe and Gillingham in recent weeks have given The Pilgrims hope that they can climb out of the danger-zone, but today will be a huge test for Derek Adams’ side.

Sunderland have the best goal-difference in League One
Image: Getty Images

Team News...

Jack Ross welcomes Glenn Loovens back into today’s squad, although it’s unlikely the Dutchman will return to the starting eleven, such is the form of Tom Flanagan and Jack Baldwin.

Together the pair have been at the heart of a Sunderland side that have kept three consecutive clean sheets. Their emerging partnership has shielded Jon McLaughlin in the Sunderland goal, but the Scottish international has himself been in outstanding form when called upon.

Adam Matthews and Reece James have operated as conventional full-backs during this recent run. James, in particular, has strong competition from Bryan Oviedo, yet it is likely that Ross will keep a consistent and effective back line together today.

Whilst Max Power serves the final game of his suspension, it gives another opportunity for Lee Cattermole and Dylan McGeough to cement their places in the midfield. Cattermole continues to excel this season in breaking up play, whilst McGeouch has provided intelligent cover in the middle of the park.

Jack Ross has a few decisions to make in the attacking line-up.

Aiden McGeady started on the bench last week, but will his goalscoring cameo appearance elevate him into the starting eleven today? With the form of Lynden Gooch, George Honeyman and Chris Maguire, the Irishman will probably have to settle for a role as impact sub once more.

Another key decision will be on who leads the line today. Jerome Sinclair has been a big part of our recent run and may keep Josh Maja out of the team once more.

Since coming into the side at Coventry, Sinclair has worked his socks off for his manager, making intelligent runs and causing problems for opposing defences. His unselfish willingness to play where Ross needs him has been refreshing, not only for a man of only 22 years, but one is currently on loan at Sunderland.

We have seen many loanees in recent seasons fail to grasp their opportunity on Wearside and leave with fans wondering why they even came. Mind, we have had a fair few permanent signings like that too. But Sinclair stands testament to what can be achieved when a willing player meets an outstanding coach.

Jerome Sinclair has provided attacking strength in recent weeks
Image: Getty Images

The Opposition...

Derek Adams took over at as manager of Plymouth Argyle in June 2015 and has continued his successful managerial career at Home Park.

Adams was promoted to manager from his role as player-coach of Ross County in 2007, aged just 32. He led County to the Scottish Second Division championship in 2008 and to the 2010 Scottish Cup Final. In 2012 he secured promotion to the Scottish Premier League and was named PFA Scotland Manager of the Year. The following season Adams secured fifth place in the SPL - just one point off a European position - before finishing seventh in the 2013–14 season.

Joining Plymouth in 2015, he guided Argyle to the League Two Play-Off Final in his first season in English football. The following campaign saw The Pilgrims go one better, finishing second and securing promotion - and then last season they finished seventh and only three points off the Play-Offs.

This season has proved a tougher campaign, with the Pilgrims winning only three of their opening sixteen games. However, two of those wins have come in the last fortnight and midfielder Jamie Ness believes they are finally starting to click together as a team:

I think the last two games have been the closest we have looked to the team we were last season. It has given the whole place a lift.

It has just taken us a bit of time to get together and it feels like the last couple of games it has really clicked for us.

We just need to focus on keep doing what we are doing, keep working hard on it and hopefully the results will come.

Derek Adams is in equally buoyant mood:

It’s going to be a fascinating game against Sunderland on Saturday.

We will approach it the same as we have been doing. We want to go and try to get the three points against them.

We are obviously in confident mood after our two very good results.

Plymouth Argyle v Liverpool - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round Replay
Derek Adams, Manager of Plymouth Argyle
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

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.