Sunderland take on mid-table Brentford this afternoon buoyed by the second half performance at Ashton Gate where the Lads recovered from a three-goal deficit to gain a well-earned point.
How vital that point will be, come the end of the season, only time will tell; however, today we hope to maintain our survival bid and build on that second half performance. As new signing Kazenga LuaLua said this week:
The way we finished the game away to Bristol can only give us momentum to go to the next game. Brentford on Saturday isn’t going to be easy, but we are playing at home so it’s a game that we need to look to win and it’s up to us to do that.
For many Sunderland fans, a home game against Brentford would bring a nod of the head and an entry in the ‘home win’ column. But that casual approach to the game on Saturday would do a huge disservice to our visitors who appear to be a club on the up.
Brentford are a well-run club. Their owner, Matthew Benham, has vision, passion and commitment. It may have taken a few years to achieve, but the Bees have shaken off their ‘lower league club’ status and become firmly part of the Championship furniture, finishing in the top half of the league ever since their promotion in 2014.
The team, who have been under the guidance of Dean Smith for the last two-and-a-half years, adopt a passing style of football that has brought positive results more often than not. This season, Brentford have gained points in 22 of their 31 games – 11 of those games have ended with the maximum haul.
Their recent form has seen a slight dip, losing twice and drawing against ten-man Preston North End last time out. Yet still, they will come to the Stadium of Light on Saturday with a good record against the sides around us, having beaten Reading, Bolton, and Sheffield Wednesday since the end of December.
Our last home game, against Ipswich Town, could not have started any better. We were in the ascendancy for well over half an hour, right until Ipswich scored... and then scored again.
Chris Coleman spoke of the need to score first, and the same will be the case today. Turning pressure into goals will be paramount. Taking the lead will equally be important.
For all Brentford’s passing game, Preston scored first and bullied the London side throughout. If Sunderland could get that foothold in the game it would be a huge advantage - as we saw in the 1-0 home wins against Fulham and Hull City.
Three points won’t bring us out of the bottom three, though, as our goal difference is 16 short of Hull and would it would take a lot more than a 1-0 home win to swing it in our favour. Three points would have a huge impact on our survival hopes, however, and fans will be eager to see Coleman’s men find a win.
Both Barnsley and Hull - who are in FA Cup action - don’t play today, which gives us a chance to leapfrog the former and match the points of the latter. Birmingham host Millwall, whilst Bolton travel to QPR.
If those results go our way, we’ll be a point behind the pair, with a trip to Bolton coming on Tuesday.
Today is a huge game.
Could last week prove to be the turning point in our season? When asked at the press conference, Coleman suggested it may be:
It needs to be. It could be a moment that turns it around. It wasn’t three points but the second half performance was very gutsy. We have to prepare properly and train hard, you have to be up for the game. These games when you get it right, it can be a springboard.
In terms of personnel, Coleman announced yesterday that Ovie Ejaria had picked up a knock in training and is a major doubt today.
Better news revealed that Callum McManaman, Adam Matthews and Jonny Williams are all available for selection, although the game comes too soon for Paddy McNair or Lamine Kone.
McNair continued his rehab with the U23s whilst Kone is stepping up his fitness, so both may be available for the Middlesbrough game next Saturday, if not Bolton on Tuesday.
This week, Coleman has talked up the attributes of Joel Asoro and the impact of Aiden McGeady, whilst at the same time focussing on learning lessons from our first half against Bristol City, rather than being carried away by the second.
Hinting that a change to 4-4-2 may even be a possibility, the manager is trying all he can to get this club away from immediate danger.
Come three o’clock, it’s up to the players who cross the white line to heed the comments the gaffer uttered last week, and have probably been repeated this:
You need to stand up for yourselves better.