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Match Preview: Bristol Rovers - no manager, no goals, no hope; it’s all very Sunderland, innit?

Bristol Rovers head to the Stadium of Light on Saturday in the relegation zone and without a manager having lost their last four games. Sunderland won’t get a better chance to take three points from a game all season, but will they take it?

Bristol Rovers v Coventry City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

Well, you won Walsall. Enjoy your third round match in Horwich... I hope it makes you very happy. Dear Lord, what a sad little life, Walsall. You ruined our second round replay, just so you could play Bolton Wanderers. I hope now you will use the game to get some lessons in grace and decorum because you have all the grace of a reversing dump truck without any tyres on.

Besides, it’s much more fun in League One.

Sunderland return to league action on Saturday as they welcome Bristol Rovers to the Stadium of Light. Portsmouth’s defeat at home to Charlton on Tuesday means the Black Cats have an opportunity to crank up the pressure on the league leaders ahead of their showdown on the south coast next weekend - and manager Jack Ross will be looking for a much improved performance from his side following the disappointing exit from the FA Cup, building momentum heading into the Christmas period.


Jack Ross says...

I think we’ve already seen that irrespective of the oppositions league position, when they’ve came to the Stadium of Light they’ve always reacted to playing in that environment and how they view that game.

I would imagine that the challenge we’ll face on Saturday [against Bristol Rovers] will be equally as tough as it’s been in every home game. But for us, on the back of one of our most disappointing performances of the season, it’s nice to be at home again.

With the crowd that will be in attendance and with that different atmosphere.

We’ve not really had to bounce back very often this season because of how the season has went, but when we’ve had to, we’ve done it well.

So, I would expect the same again from the players, that faith and trust in them hasn’t diminished in any respect from the other night.

Gillingham v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Team News...

Ross is sweating on the fitness of both Aiden McGeady and Lynden Gooch, who missed the Walsall game due to injury. The Scot is hopeful the pair will be available for selection but should either not make it, he could be tempted to give Duncan Watmore his first league start in over a year.

The winger has been making positive steps in his recovery and featured in both the Checkatrade Trophy game against Notts County and Tuesday’s replay against Walsall. Ross confirmed that Watmore will be included in the matchday squad along with midfield dynamo Lee Cattermole who had a shaky half hour coming on as a substitute against the Saddlers.

Josh Maja is expected to come back into the side for Jerome Sinclair, who disappointed on Tuesday night. Ross also has a decision to make over right back if Adam Matthews fails to recover from the knock he sustained at the Accrington swamp last weekend - he has options, with Tom Flanagan and Bryan Oviedo able to play in this position, or he could continue with Luke O’Nien deployed in a slightly unconventional role.

Should he choose Flanagan to cover right back, it could mean a return for Glenn Loovens at centre back to add a much more physical presence to the defence. In midfield, the fit again Dylan McGeouch gives Ross yet more choices ahead of a packed festive schedule.

Photo credit: SAFC.com

Opposition...

Bristol Rovers arrive on Wearside in absolutely rancid form and sit in the relegation zone, four points from safety. The Gas have lost five of their last six league games including a 4-0 bodying at home to Doncaster Rovers in their last outing.

To add to these testing times, Rovers have decided to serve up some thick, delicious slices of premium beef as they dispensed with manager and your Year 10 geography supply teacher Darrell Clarke after four years in charge. Clarke, who masterminded the club’s rise from Conference to League One in just two years, was dismissed on “amicable terms” and the decision was “in the best interests of the club”, according to a club statement.

It probably had nothing to do with Clarke smashing the nuclear button following the Doncaster match. There was no stopping the former Salisbury City boss as he turned his ire on everyone and everything that moved. No-one was spared as players, the board and even himself felt the brunt of his sharp tongue.

People think I have a problem with the board, I don’t have a problem with the board, I just tell them exactly how it is.

I don’t go and shirk away in the boardroom, I tell them it’s not good enough, the club’s going backwards. I said that to them yesterday. It is because we’re fourth bottom on the pitch but it’s going backwards because nothing’s happening.

I don’t think anyone would blame me for walking out the door, would they? I’m a fighter, my pride doesn’t let me do that. You’ve just fought all your life.

So ta-ra, Darrell Clarke. Sitting in the away dugout in his place - albeit on a temporarily basis - will be defensive coach Graham Coughlan, who only joined the club in the summer as part of Clarke’s backroom team.

Grimsby Town v Bristol Rovers: Vanarama Conference Playoff Final Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Last Time We Met...

Sunderland haven’t faced Bristol Rovers since two Don Hutchison goals gave The Lads a 2-1 League Cup victory at the Memorial Stadium in 2000 - and this will be Rovers’ first visit to the Stadium of Light.

The two sides last met on Wearside in the league in September 1992 when a last-minute goal from John Byrne rescued a point for Malcolm Crosby’s Sunderland and cancelled out a future Sunderland sexy b*stard Marcus Stewart goal for Rovers. Both clubs would go on to have dreadful seasons, with Sunderland staying in Division 1 by a point and Rovers finishing bottom.

The Gas have a fairly decent record at Sunderland and are unbeaten in their last three visits, stretching back to 1979.

Bristol rov v sunder