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Match Preview: Third time lucky... can Sunderland FINALLY beat Walsall in the FA Cup tonight?!

This will be our third game of the season against Walsall, having drawn twice at the Bescot Stadium already. Can we make home advantage pay and secure victory tonight in the FA Cup second round replay?

Image: Dean Matthews Photography

There is a song that is often sung by fans when witnessing their team annihilate an opposition - “Can we play you every week?”

It seems that is the case for the Sunderland-Walsall fixture this season - at least in terms of occurrence, if not result. November 24th saw the 2-2 league draw and then, a week later on December 1st, a 1-1 draw in the second round of the FA Cup. That result set up tonight’s replay, the third encounter in just eighteen days.

Can Sunderland finally beat The Saddlers and set up a third round tie at Bolton Wanderers?

The Gaffer says...

I’ve always remained very honest about what remains the priority and that will remain the case throughout the season, but the focus is on winning tonight.

What we wanted to try and create this season at the club was a mentality of winning games every single week. It’s important to us continuing that momentum.

Every game is impacting on our midweek games at the moment because of the schedule we have ahead of us – not just until the end of the year but into the middle of January anyway.

Even prior to Saturday it was part of our plans [to reassess ahead of Tuesday]. What we do have to assess is any bumps and bruises from Saturday.

I’m fortunate that I’ve got players who’ve not had as much chance to contribute as much as they’d maybe like this season. So I’ve got players who will play and it will be good for their season.

We have Bristol Rovers on Saturday and then Portsmouth after and then a really busy schedule so we’ve got to try and plan ahead as much as you can, while being respectful of the challenge you face immediately.

We will use our squad tomorrow night with Saturday in mind.

Adam Matthews will be unavailable. We have got some concerns over two or three and will make a late decision on them.

Lee Cattermole will be back. Duncan will be back in the squad, too. The opportunity to get him back on the pitch will only be good for us.

It’s a big game for us – we want to progress, as we have done in every game this season. We will pick the strongest team we feel we have.

Jack Ross has some big decisions to make tonight in terms of his starting XI
Image: Getty Images

Team News...

Tonight’s side will be an interesting one. During yesterday’s press conference, Jack Ross hinted that he would make the full use of Sunderland’s strength in depth tonight. With Lee Cattermole and Duncan Watmore already confirmed as being part of the matchday squad, what other decisions does Ross have to make?

Adam Matthews was withdrawn during Saturday’s abandoned league game and Ross confirmed he will miss the tie tonight. Without another recognised right-back available, with Donald Love already out injured, does this prompt a change in formation? Two or three others are struggling, so how many changes will Ross make?

During the recent Checkatrade cup games, Ross has opted for wholesale changes and a different approach. Playing three centre-backs has allowed Sunderland to tackle the game in a new way. Having drawn twice with Walsall already in the previous fortnight or so, will Ross tinker to find a solution to break the deadlock?

These questions allow multiple possibilities for team selection. For example, Glenn Loovens and/or Alim Öztürk could come into a back three and allow Reece James or Bryan Oviedo to operate as a left wing-back. That formation could see Lynden Gooch revert to a position on the right that he played so well earlier in the season, or it could allow Bali Mumba to take the role he performed effectively against Notts County.

In midfield, both Dylan McGeough and Lee Cattermole are available after injury. Could either or both start the game tonight? What of Luke O’Nien, who was perhaps unfortuante to be dropped on Saturday?

And what role could Duncan Watmore play, having made his competitive return in last week’s Checkatrade game? Could he come in as a starter or be introduced from the bench?

The fact Jack Ross has multiple options has to be a bonus, especially as the league games are backing up. Allowing game time tonight will also be a consideration for certain players, given the hectic Christmas schedule we are about to embark upon.

Whatever team is selected, Ross will be looking to secure Sunderland’s place in the third round and use the away game at Bolton as something of a litmus test for his promotion-chasing side.

Jack Ross has confirmed that Lee Cattermole will be in the squad tonight
Image: Getty Images

The Opposition...

Dean Keates brings his Walsall side to the Stadium of Light hoping to make the Third Round of the FA Cup for only the second time in ten years. To progress, Keates will have to do it without in-form forward Andy Cook, who will be suspended this evening.

However, with two goals in stoppage time on Saturday turning a 1-0 defeat into a 2-1 win over Coventry City, the manager is keen to take that momentum into the cup game on Wearside. Citing stand-in skipper Luke Leahy, who got both goals, as great example for his team-mates, Keates said:

The lads are bouncing, they are high.

[Leahy] was captain today and he showed a great captain’s mentality when he drove his team home for the three points.

He wore the armband on Wednesday night and he’s wore it again today – and it was a captain’s performance from him.

Barnsley v Walsall - Sky Bet League One
Dean Keates will be hoping Saturday’s result inspires his Walsall side tonight
Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Where Can I Catch The Game?

Tickets for tonight’s replay are still on sale, priced at £10 for adults and £5 for under-16 and over-65. Sales tonight will be via cash turnstiles from 6.30pm.

Audio commentary will be provided on BBC Newcastle by Nick Barnes from around 7pm.

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.

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