The collective sigh of relief that accompanied the final whistle against Bradford City highlighted how far one of League One’s strugglers had pushed Sunderland. Backed by a near-capacity crowd at the Stadium of Light, Jack Ross’ side managed to pass a huge test that in previous years they would’ve failed.
An almighty error by the officials aside, Sunderland were able to cope with the heightened expectation of the occasion. Now they have an excellent opportunity to build on the result as they welcome Shrewsbury Town to the Stadium of Light.
The visitors arrive with the worst away record in League One and Sunderland will want to complete a double over the Shrews and keep up the pressure on Luton Town and Portsmouth.
Jack Ross says...
I’ve mentioned about the different challenges we face and you can see how each team comes here and responds to the surroundings and atmosphere.
In essence at times, it is a free hit for some of them as there is no expectation upon them, that is something we have had to face this season. We have had to deal with that and we are getting better at it.
We have a good home record in the league and that is something we want to continue on Saturday. It was huge to send the fans home happy [on Boxing Day].
I was aware and kept fully up to date in terms of the numbers, I understood the responsibility on us to produce a positive result.
We had to make sure we didn’t fall flat in front of a big crowd and we did that, the performance was good for the most part.
Jack Ross admitted that Saturday’s game may come a little early for skipper George Honeyman and full back Adam Matthews. Honeyman missed Boxing Day’s clash with Bradford with an ankle injury and Ross is reluctant to rush him back in the middle of a packed festive schedule.
Matthews’ absence will likely see Luke O’Nien continue at right back. The former Wycombe Wanderers midfielder has performed well in the makeshift position putting in man of the match performances against the Bantams and Portsmouth. Should Honeyman fail to return, Lee Cattermole and Max Power could remain at the heart of the midfield.
Ross will be encouraged by Charlie Wyke’s return to the squad and the striker showed glimpses of what he can offer during his brief cameo against his old club. Linking well Duncan Watmore, the pair give Sunderland a different option from the bench or the starting line-up, should Ross decide to rest Josh Maja.
This season has been very “After the Lord Mayor’s show” affair for Shrewsbury Town. The dizzying heights of a third place finish and play-off heartbreak on the Wembley turf last season seem a long time ago. The Shrews currently occupy 18th place but with a seven-point cushion on the relegation places.
They make the trip to the Stadium of Light with the worst away record in League One, collecting just six points from 12 matches. Their only victory on the road came at AFC Wimbledon in November and their last outing - a 2-1 reverse at Accrington Stanley - saw the Shropshire side concede within just 25 seconds.
The performance was heavily criticised by manager Sam Ricketts, who described his players as “very poor in an awful lot of departments”. Midfielder Ollie Norburn, who scored a second half penalty at the Wham Stadium, has vowed to put things right and reward the travelling Shrewsbury supporters.
He told the Shropshire Star:
The fans were good throughout the game (at Accrington) but we probably let them and ourselves down. The good thing with this league is, especially over the Christmas period, that the games come thick and fast so we can move on to Sunderland.
No doubt there’ll be another good Shrewsbury following up there and hopefully we can repay that.
It’s a game where every footballer wants to play. It’ll be a big crowd, a big stadium, but we definitely won’t be going there fearing anything.
They’re in the same league as us and on our day we’re more than good enough to take on anyone. It’s a matter of getting little things right and starting on the front foot.
Last Time We Met
In their long and illustrious history, the remorseless winning machine of Shrewsbury Town has never managed to vanquish Sunderland. The last time the two met was in the sunbathed autumnal Shropshire countryside in mid-October, when an Omar Beckles own goal and a sweeping Luke O’Nien finish gave Jack Ross’ a 2-0 victory.
Shrewsbury have only visited the Stadium of Light once in their history, losing to a late-Adnan Januzaj in a League Cup second round game in August 2016.
You have to travel back to the spring of 1989 for the last league meeting between the two on Wearside. Goals from Thomas Hauser and Gordon Armstrong gave Denis Smith’s Sunderland a 2-1 victory en route to an 11th placed finish in Division Two, while Shrewsbury were relegated.