Today has been long-billed as the defining fixture for both sides. For Sunderland, playing Accrington Stanley in the third tier of English football barely 19 months after a trip to Stamford Bridge for a Premier League match, this was seen as the epitome of the fall that the club has suffered. For Accrington, playing at home against the Wearsiders is the complete opposite and celebrates the rise of an entity that have been famously dubbed ‘The Club That Wouldn’t Die’.
Whatever the outcome today, the job John Coleman has done is nothing short of magnificent. For Sunderland fans, the hope is that in Jack Ross we have an exceptional manager who is looking to take the club on an equally impressive upward trajectory.
The Gaffer says...
We’re looking forward to it, like we have done with all of our away games this season.
Obviously, for a lot of people associated with the club, there have been new venues that we went to and new challenges. A new environment for us to go into, but against a team that has performed well in League One, considering they’ve only just been promoted. Their opening half to this season has been very encouraging.
More excited about it than anything else. I think we all are, as a club, and I’m sure the supporters will be as well. I know Saturday is a big occasion for them because of the crowd that will be in attendance, so, for many different reasons, I think we’re all looking forward to it.
Each and every time, you’re picking a team that you think is best suited to that game, but you’re also then balancing it out with the demands on each of those players individually.
This schedule in particular, the cup games being in amongst the league games, changes the dynamics of it slightly as well. So, we’ll do that over the coming fixtures - we’ll look to use the squad without it being a detriment to the strength of the team that we put on the pitch.
We can only ever affect our own results and, if we continue to do that in the manner that we have done to this stage and we keep replicating that points per game or close to that, we’re going to have a really good chance of getting promotion.
It’s what we want to achieve, I’ve never shied away from doing that.
If you thought you were about to witness the inaugural meeting of Sunderland and a team from Accrington, well I’m sorry to disappoint you. In fact, this will be the ninth recorded meeting between teams from the respective areas.
Granted, all the previous eight came two centuries ago, and the opposition was Accrington FC! That was a Division One fixture for three seasons, beginning in 1890. Sunderland also met Accrington during FA Cup ties in 1892 and 1894.
A draw and an Accrington home win during the 1890/91 season are the only occasions Sunderland haven’t beaten a team from the town. The Lads won the last six against FC - four of those coming in 1892. A 3-1 FA Cup win in February was followed by a 5-3 league victory in March. Both fixtures for the following season were scheduled a month apart; Sunderland winning 6-0 away in September and 4-2 at home in October.
The sixth, and last win, came during the FA Cup tie of 1894, when Sunderland ran out 3-0 winners at our first home ground of Newcastle Road.
124 years later, we now play the town’s newest side, formed in 1968 and taking the name of the side originally formed in 1891 - Accrington Stanley.
The state of play...
Accrington Stanley sit 11th in League One, with just over a third of their games this season resulting in victories. However, their recent run of four defeats and two draws in their last six league games means they haven’t secured three points since beating Peterborough 1-0 in mid-October. Consequently, Stanley sit bottom of the form table, whilst Sunderland are second.
A couple of draws in late November put the breaks on Sunderland’s winning run, but an impressive victory over promotion-rivals Barnsley last time out will have the confidence flowing amongst the red and white ranks ahead of today’s encounter. Sunderland’s single defeat remains the trip to Burton on September 15th, yet the Wearsiders remain four points from leaders Portsmouth. With Pompey hosting Southend today, Sunderland will see the value of three points in cementing second spot, unless an upset is on the cards at Fratton Park.
For the home side, a win today would address the worrying slide, whilst propelling them back to, potentially, three points off the play-offs.
Jack Ross has taken advantage of recent cup-ties and has been able to mix the starting XI around. In have come a number of impressive academy players and fringe players, looking to stake a claim for league consideration.
The presence of Duncan Watmore on Tuesday evening against Notts County was a huge boost for everyone at the club. Ross has hinted that he will carefully manage the 24-year-old’s rehabilitation into the first team and, therefore, Watmore won’t likely be risked today, so soon after the Checkatrade game. Similarly, Charlie Wyke has resumed full training but will be eased back into the fold during the Christmas period.
With the squad only missing a handful of players, Jack Ross now has options in most positions. However, it would be a brave man betting against the league side we have now come to expect. A solid back line of Matthews, Flanagan, Baldwin and James ahead of McLaughlin, shielded by two from McGeough, Power or Honeyman, and an offense quartet made up of Gooch, Maguire, McGeady and Maja seems the most obvious choice.
Bryan Oviedo and Luke O’Nien have started the last two games, whilst appearing from the subs bench in other weeks. Their claims to starting today remain strong. However, with both George Honeyman and Dylan McGeough available, will Ross decide to make changes?
Perhaps others who have caught the eye this week include Glenn Loovens and Academy defender Jack Bainbridge, who both looked impressive against Notts County. Bali Mumba also looked solid and could well provide an option for Ross, whilst Benji Kimpioka had an immediate impact from the subs bench, winning the penalty which was converted by Jerome Sinclair to secured victory in the cup-tie.
It is a positive position to be in, with so many vying for places and others recovering from injury. With the busy Christmas period around the corner, Ross will need the full strength of his squad to see us through on all fronts.
Accrington Stanley’s staff and players have been looking forward to this fixture and refuse to be overawed by the occasion - they’re getting used to bigger crowds attending home games, and the club are hoping the growth in support is a catalyst for future development.
Playing sides such as Sunderland have certainly helped, both in away following and size of the club. For now, though, Stanley are enjoying being on an equal footing with a former Premier League mainstay.
Key for the home side will be striker Billy Kee, who bagged 25 goals in Accrington’s League Tow promotion season last year, and Sean McConville, who has scored seven goals this season from the left wing.
Boss John Coleman summed up the mood when he spoke to Accrington’s official website ahead of the game:
It’s nice to play Sunderland just as it was nice when we played Bradford City at Valley Parade in front of 15,000.
We want to win the game, we have no inferiority complex. It doesn’t matter about the size of the club or the wage bill, it’s 11v11 on the day.
Our lads will stick their chests out and go onto the pitch believing they are the best in the world.
There was a lot of noise about this fixture before it even happened, about 10 games before the end of last season, everyone talking about ‘little Accy’ against ‘huge Sunderland’. It’s going to create attention.
With the record crowd, it will be a cracking atmosphere and I am sure the Sunderland fans will enjoy the Wham Stadium experience with all that goes on pre and post-match.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Sunderland have sold out their allocation, with approx half the ground being turned over to fans from Wearside. If you missed being part of the 2,600 travelling support, you can still catch the game in a variety of ways.
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.