Jack Ross takes his Sunderland side to The Bescot.... wait, haven’t we said that already? A liitle déjà vu. But, no, you haven’t dreamt this one before - we do indeed travel back to Walsall for the FA Cup Second Round today.
Last week, the two sides sized each other up in a league encounter and will be using that experience to try to reach the third round and, potentially, face one of the Premier League’s big boys. Or Newcastle United. Maybe.
Of course, Walsall only saw a fraction of what Sunderland can do. Despite Liam Kinsella’s best impression of Eric Cantona, launching himself two footed and off the ground towards Max Power, it was the Sunderland man who collected the red card from the referee in the 23rd minute. Thankfully, the FA saw the mistake for themselves and rescinded the card, allowing Power to play both the midweek league game against Barnsley and today’s cup-tie back in the West Midlands.
Today, Walsall may feel the full force of Jack Ross’ team.
The Gaffer says...
Physically, I think the players are dealing with [the schedule of games] well. I think they’ve shown already that their conditioning levels are good; they’ve coped with a lot.
Like everything, when you’re in good form, it’s much easier to deal with. As a team, they’re producing good results, which means that they look forward to games; they’re more excited about the games as they come around. The great thing is, we’ve not relied on 12 or 13 players, it has been very much a collective effort.
I think it’s good having these cup games because the league is relentless.
Although we very much want to keep progressing in the two cups, it has a different feel around it. I’d loathe to say less pressure, I just think it has a different feel around it and it gives a bit of freshness to this week, in particular because we were there on league business last week.
I didn’t have any issues with the game last week other than it being competitive and a big challenge for us. I thought last week it had a cup-tie atmosphere around it because of the support we brought and then how the game unfolded.
I don’t think we’re going to go into anything different than we faced last weekend. It showed last week how tough a challenge it was to go there and get a result and I would expect the same again this weekend.
This tournament is still a big tournament. To progress in it, we’re going to have to work harder than we’ve done in a lot of recent years because of when we entered the tournament.
The incentive is to progress to the next round.
Jack Ross will have the same squad to call upon as last week and is likely to name a strong side in order to progress in the competition. With an eye on the Checkatrade Trophy game against Notts County on Tuesday, Ross will have to rotate his side during both cup competitions. That game will offer oportunities to the likes of Glenn Loovens, Alim Öztürk and possibly even Duncan Watmore, whereas today Ross is likely to centre on the team that swept Barnsley aside in midweek.
The Sunderland manager does have a few options, though. Luke O’Nien continued his improvement in a red and white shirt by scoring the fourth at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday, whilst Jerome Sinclair and Bryan Oviedo came on in midweek. All three are valid options for the manager, but such will be the confidence following the Barnsley win that Ross can afford to name an unchanged side today.
With Accrington Stanley visiting Wearside next Saturday, Ross will be hoping today’s result brings cup cheer without any new injury concerns. Lee Cattermole and Dylan McGeough are both hoping to be available for selection over the course of this week, meaning Ross will have options to change the Sunderland team without losing the current momentum. Perhaps one of the midfielders may even make the squad today.
The other noteable absences are Charlie Wyke, who is making progress towards a Christmas come-back, Denver Hume, who has suffered further injury during his rehabilitation, and Ethan Robson.
Dean Keates will have been rubbing his hands with glee up to the hour mark of last weekend’s game. But since 4pm Saturday, things haven’t gone well for the Walsall manager. Sunderland’s goals in the 62nd and 89th minutes brought the game to a shared conclusion, before Portsmouth beat the Saddlers 2-0 at Fratton Park. Those four goals meant Walsall claimed only a point during a big week, but league form often goes out of the window as the FA cup rolls into town.
Keates will be hoping to put those disappointments behind him, especially letting a two goal lead slip against Sunderland at home. And what better opportunity to do so than put the Wearsiders out of the FA cup in the second round.
To do so, Keates knows they will have to cut out mistakes:
We are not giving ourselves a chance to win football matches. You can’t be expected to go and score three goals every time you step out onto the pitch.
When you are not being clinical in the opposition 18-yard box, and when you are shipping goals in your 18-yard box, you are facing an uphill battle straight away.
Football is all about moments. And we have not been clinical enough with our moments. We have to better.
Would I say we have been beaten by the opposition? Probably not. We are not helping ourselves.
The goals are coming from our mistakes. Teams aren’t having to earn goals against us at the moment. It’s not the back four that’s accountable for that, it’s the whole team
Head to Head...
The two sides have never met in this competition before, although Sunderland have beaten Walsall three times in the League Cup.
Sunderland defeated the Saddlers 6-2, at Roker Park back in 1961, during a second round tie.
Our only other meeting in cup competition was a two-legged League cup affair back in 1999. Again at the second round stage, goals from Danny Dichio, a Tony Barras own goal, and Darren Williams secured a 3-2 home leg win at the Stadium of Light. In the return at The Bescot Stadium, goals from Eric Roy and braces for both Danny Dichio and Carsten Fredgaard saw Sunderland win 5-0 and 8-2 on aggregate.
Perhaps meeting this opponent, in the second round of a cup competition, and winning emphatically on both occassions, is a good omen for today.
Played For Both...
A player who may be familiar to both sides is Don Goodman.
Goodman signed for Sunderland in 1991, following Denis Smith’s decision to sell star player Marco Gabbiadini. Crystal Palace paid £1.8m for the striker, and Smith made Goodman Sunderland’s record signing at £900,000.
Goodman had already played in the FA Cup, so was cup-tied as Sunderland rode the crest of the wave in 1992, reaching the final against Liverpool. John Byrne was the hero of that run, whilst Goodman ended the season as Sunderland’s top scorer with eleven goals in just 24 league appearances.
In all, Don Goodman would score 47 goals in 132 appearances for The Lads before a £1.1m move to Wolves in 1994. Seven years later, Goodman would have a spell at Walsall, making 25 appearances during 2001/02 and scoring three goals.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Audio commentary will be provided on BBC Newcastle by Nick Barnes from around 2pm.
The game is also available on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, online and Freeview channel 719.
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.