Executive Director Charlie Methven ambitiously challenged Sunderland fans to break the League One attendance record of 38256, set by Leeds United in 2008. That figure was surpassed last week when Andrew Lee purchased the record-breaking 38,257th ticket. Since then, over 3000 more tickets have been sold, with today’s crowd expected to reach, or even exceed, 45,000.
Such a response from the Sunderland faithful needs to be rewarded on the pitch.
Following Saturday’s disappointing defeat at Portsmouth, the mood on Wearside took a dip. With Portsmouth extending their lead over Sunderland to eight points and Luton’s ten-match unbeaten run showing no signs of slowing, the top two are opening a gap on the chasing pack.
Jack Ross will be consoling himself in the knowledge that Sunderland’s two games in hand could see us recover second place, but a return to winning ways today is just as essential.
Having lost only twice in the league this season, and both away from home, today’s game at the Stadium of Light against a side fighting to avoid relegation is the perfect way to bounce back and send the thousands of fans home happy.
The Gaffer says...
Any time you lose a game you will always suffer disappointment because of the expectations we have on us and the ambition we have as a team. You want to put things right in football as quickly as you can.
We have that chance with a game coming round so quickly and with being at home and the size of the crowd will mean there is a huge amount of motivation for us to put that right again.
There is not going to be anybody flat because of the size of the occasion. It is nice to have a game coming round so quickly after Saturday.
There is a responsibility on me to make sure there is a team befitting of that crowd, that show loyalty and commitment. There is an onus on us to do that on Boxing Day. We don’t want to disappoint those that have come. We want to make sure that those who have come for the first time in a while, that we have encouraged them to come back again.
A very obvious way of doing that is by winning the game.
The state of play...
Sunderland’s defeat at Fratton Park mean Portsmouth have opened an eight-point gap over the Wearsiders. With two games in hand, Sunderland can close the gap to two points, but will remain behind the South Coast side regardless of the outcome. Luton Town’s run of nine wins and a draw means they haven’t lost since mid-October and now sit four points above Sunderland in second place.
Jack Ross will see today as a great opportunity to bounce back from only our second defeat of the season, when we entertain a side struggling at the wrong end of the table. Our league record at home remains intact and Ross will be looking to secure three points here today. With Luton and Portsmouth playing teams either side of Bradford in the table, Sunderland cannot afford to drop points this afternoon.
For the Lads to get back to winning ways, they must overcome a resurgent Bradford side who have won three times, and lost just once, in their last five games. The Bantams have also secured successive clean sheets prior to this afternoon.
Those ten points gained in the last month have lifted them to 20th in the league. Given recent results, David Hopkin will be bringing his side to the Stadium of Light hoping to avoid dropping back into the relegation places tonight.
Jack Ross will be forced into at least one change as Glenn Loovens will be suspended following his red card at Portsmouth. At the press conference on Monday, Jack Ross revealed Loovens had picked up an injury during the challenge and will be missing for a few weeks. Adam Matthews also remains a doubt with the calf injury that kept him out of the game at Fratton Park, but the Sunderland manager was more hopeful over the availability of Josh Maja and Tom Flanagan.
The Northern Ireland international was a big loss on Saturday and his return would be a huge boost. If passed fit, expect Sunderland to line up with Luke O’Nien and Reece James in the full-back positions and Jack Baldwin partnering Flanagan at centre-half. Alim Öztürk, however, remains on stand-by, having played most of the second half on Saturday.
Despite feeling unwell, Maja took his place amongst the substitutes and Ross will be hoping the club’s top-scorer will be ready to lead the line once more today. In his absence, Duncan Watmore got 50 minutes of league action under his belt, but was sacrificed when Loovens was sent off. Both Watmore and former Bantams striker Charlie Wyke could start this afternoon on the bench.
One player who will be hoping he won’t be on Sunderland’s bench is Chris Maguire. The former Bury forward has been sacrificed in recent games to allow for Lee Cattermole’s return in the middle of the park. Captain George Honeyman has been deployed in a more advanced role, but with Sunderland searching for three points, there is an argument that Maguire needs to be reinstated.
Sunderland’s strength lies with their forwards and having the likes of Lynden Gooch, Aiden McGeady and Chris Maguire supporting Josh Maja has served the Wearsiders well in recent weeks. Leaving Lee Cattermole out today and dropping Honeyman deeper to partner Max Power could be a viable option.
With games coming thick and fast, Dylan McGeough, Bali Mumba, Jerome Sinclair and Bryan Oviedo - who lost his place on Saturday to the returning Reece James - will all be pushing to play some part over the Christmas period. Jack Ross will be hoping to use his full squad to achieve the maximum return if Sunderland are to put pressure on the top two going into 2019.
Since we last met...
Sunderland travelled to Valley Parade back in October where the Wearsiders ran out 2-1 winners. At that stage, new manager David Hopkin had recorded three defeats, a draw and a win, leaving confidence low. Three days later, they would suffer a 4-1 home defeat to League Two Oldham in the Checkatrade Trophy.
October saw no further improvement in league form either. Losing at Accrington Stanley was followed by home defeats against Rochdale and Coventry, before a 4-0 thumping at Gillingham.
November started just as badly. A 1-0 home defeat to league leaders Portsmouth was followed by a 1-1 draw at Vanarama National League Aldershot Town. The replay later in the month produced the same scoreline, although the Bantams secured their place in the second round thanks to a penalty shoot-out.
In between the cup games, Bradford lost again in the Checkatrade Trophy, this time to Barnsley, but did manage to secure a league point with a 1-1 home draw against Peterborough. Three further points were added with a home win over Oxford, but a 4-0 reverse at Luton Town ended the month as it had begun.
December has been a far better month for the Yorkshire side. Three draws - two against Peterborough in the FA Cup and a 3-3 draw at Plymouth - have been followed up with successive victories, both again at home. A 4-0 battering of Walsall and a 2-0 win over Scunthorpe have lifted Bradford out of the relegation places on goal difference.
The view from the Away dressing room...
The players were magnificent yet again [on Saturday]. It was a fantastic performance and it is good to go into Christmas outside of the bottom four.
To win three home league games in a row is a remarkable achievement considering where we were at a couple of months ago.
I challenged the players a few weeks ago to be off of the bottom by this point - and they have done that.
There is great togetherness throughout the squad. Everybody is starting to believe in themselves and what we are trying to do.
Things are starting to turn and you can feel the good feeling throughout the whole club, from the players to the staff.
It is a fantastic achievement to have climbed out of the relegation zone and we will look to keep building in order to move up the league
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Approaching 45,000 tickets have already been sold for today’s game, setting a new League One attendance record.
Cash turnstiles will also be open this afternoon. Turnstiles 10-16 and 63 and 64 will be open in the Premier Concourse from 1.30pm. Tickets are priced at £25 for adults, £20 for over 65s and £10 for under 16s.
For those unable to attend, 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.