Woooooooaaaaaaahhhhhhh, nelly! This is a big one! Remember when we had “six pointers” to determine which team was the least rubbish and hopefully keep us in whatever God forsaken league we found ourselves in?
Those days are long gone, baby!
We’re going to the south coast to take on league leaders Portsmouth.
After missing the chance to go ten points clear in early-December, Pompey have stuttered of late and Sunderland are now within five points of top spot with two games in hand. Victory at Fratton Park could give Jack Ross’ side a huge shot in the arm ahead of the hectic Christmas period and would lay down a bloody massive marker in our bid for promotion.
Sunderland are on the longest unbeaten run in League One while Portsmouth are desperate to get back to winning ways after two disappointing results. Something’s got to give...
Jack Ross says...
I think it’s like all games, individually they’re never going to define your season, unless it’s the final game of a season and the outcome of that will determine where you finish.
But when you’re in the middle of a season, there’re games that take on significance because of where teams find themselves in the league.
So, I’m not going to shy away from that.
It’s an important game given where Portsmouth are, given where we are and given where we both want to be at the end of the season. I think we’ve enjoyed these types of fixtures this season. I do feel as if the players have brought out their best in these bigger games, if you like.
So, I’m hopeful that will be the case again on Saturday.
Jack Ross has been handed a major boost ahead of the trip to Fratton Park as goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin is fit to face the league leaders. The Scot - who has been in tremendous form so far this season - has recovered from a back spasm that forced him off during the second half against Bristol Rovers.
Full back Reece James is also back in contention after missing the 2-1 win over Rovers, injuring himself during the warm-up. There are concerns over centre half Tom Flanagan who is struggling with a hip problem with Ross describing his chances of making the Portsmouth game as “touch and go”.
Should the former Burton Albion man miss out, Glenn Loovens is expected to continue in the heart of defence his absence. Ross will have to choose whether to reinstate James at full back or stick with Bryan Oviedo who has held the place for a number of weeks.
To much annoyance, Portsmouth are not doing the gentlemanly thing of stepping aside to let Sunderland steamroll this puny division. The south coast outfit have been setting the pace in League One so far this campaign and are currently four points clear at the summit and five points in front of Jack Ross’ gorgeous boys.
Kenny Jackett’s side have been in top spot since the end of September but have endured a slight wobble in recent weeks. Having missed that opportunity to move 10 points clear of Sunderland by losing to Charlton Athletic, last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Barnsley has the chasing pack breathing down their necks.
The debate around Fratton Park is whether Jackett returns to a 4-2-3-1 formation after deploying a 3-5-2 formation at Oakwell which saw the highly rated Ronan Curtis moved into a central striking position. The Republic of Ireland international has been instrumental to Pompey’s season with seven goals and seven assists to his name so far linking well with striker Oli Hawkins.
Jackett has a decision to make over where to play the influential starlet:
Ronan got into very good positions (against Barnsley) and was almost one side-step or move from being in goalscoring positions. When he goes up front, that’s where Ronan is.
He looks like he is a major threat because his attitude and athleticism stands out.
You’re just waiting for that ball to break for him or him pushing to the side of the defender so he can pull the trigger. Sometimes there haven’t been enough players around Hawkins.
We have a degree of tactical flexibility because there are times when you need some pace on the break.
Last Time We Met
If you could distill Steve Bruce’s tenure at Sunderland down to one game, it would be the last time The Lads visited Fratton Park in February 2010. Up against 10 men from the ninth minute, a Darren Bent penalty gave Sunderland an early lead before they went on to implode.
Lee Cattermole collected two bookings in six minutes before David Meyler was shown a straight red after elbowing someone in the head two minutes after coming off the bench. Aruna Dindane (yeah, I forgot he existed as well) scored a 96th-minute equaliser to leave Brucey bemoaning a “lack of professionalism” from his team.
Sunderland ended the campaign in 13th while Pompey finished bottom, placed into administration and were in League Two within three years.
The Lads haven’t enjoyed the best times on the south coast, failing to win on their last six visits in league and cup. You have to go back to November 1997 for a Mackem victory when goals from Niall Quinn, Lee Clark, Allan Johnston and Nicky Summerbee gave Peter Reid’s side a 4-1 win en route to play-off heartbreak.