Gillingham started their League One campaign in impressive style with victories in their opening games against Accrington Stanley and recently-relegated Burton Albion.
A defeat last weekend at Walsall was still regarded as a decent performance by manager Steve Lovell, and the Gills will undoubtedly prove to be another tough away game for Sunderland.
The first time we found ourselves at this level it was, of course, due to Gillingham claiming an away goals victory in the league play-off. Not that we would hold that against them, but here we are again.
Jack Ross is creating an impressive unit and the hope is we can build on the last away game, where we drew with Luton Town at Kenilworth Road.
The Gaffer says...
In every game we’ve played we’ve shown signs of progress, and [Sunday] was probably the best one to date. I think, given the turn around in players and the number of injuries we’ve had in that period, it’s a start we can be satisfied with.
Thus far, we’ve only had one away game, but a tough one at that and we came through that relatively well. I’d have liked to have won that game, but we still produced an ok performance and we had to be resilient given the atmosphere and environment we went into.
Gillingham play in a system similar to Luton, so that helps us to some degree. They’ve started the season in a positive fashion, taking Saturday aside, and we’re aware of the challenge we face.
Like every away game this season, there’s an added edge to it simply because of the status of this club and the fans we will take to each and every away game. That in itself lends itself to an increased atmosphere and intensity about the match, so we’re going to have to deal with that each and every occasion we go away from home and it will be no different again on Wednesday evening.
A challenging week, but I think it’s one that the players will be going into with the best possible frame of mind, which is obviously good for me as a manager.
Jack Ross has been consistent in his team selections this season, but with three games in six days there is always the option for some rotation. Donald Love, Ethan Robson and Dylan McGeough are expected to be available to play some part in this run of games and may come into the manager’s thinking for tonight.
Adam Matthews recovered from a knock at Luton to start against Scunthorpe on Sunday. The Welshman has again recovered sufficiently to travel, but will perhaps sit out the game tonight in preparation for the weekend. Donald Love is the most obvious replacement, whilst Reece James or Denver Hume are available to make their first league starts. A further option is moving Jack Baldwin to right back and return Alim Öztürk to centre-half. The Turk has had a torrid time in the games he’s played so far, so his progress may be carefully managed.
In midfield, we had hoped to see Dylan McGeough make the team on Sunday, given Ross’ positive comments. However, his name was omitted from the matchday squad, but he, too, travelled to the capital yesterday. It is hoped he can make the line-up either tonight or against Wimbledon on Saturday. In his absence, Lee Cattermole continued his good form atgainst Scunthorpe and looks comfortable alongside Max Power. Jack Ross has Bali Mumba and Luke O’Nien chomping at the bit and Ethan Robson returning from injury, so Sunderland have plenty of options in this department.
In attack, changes are unlikey as consistency has proved key to Sunderland’s performances to date. Chris Maguire, Lynden Gooch, George Honeyman and Josh Maja will come under increased pressure when Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady return but, as both players remain on Wearside, the quartet are likely starters again tonight.
Gillingham manager Steve Lovell was philosophical in defeat at the weekend and will be looking for home form to return the Gills to winning ways. He’ll be looking for his side to get on the front foot quickly and put Sunderland under pressure.
The performance [against Walsall] was okay; they gave everything. I just don’t think we started well, or like we normally do, and then it’s hard to get back in the game.
They kept going, they didn’t give up, we had a go in the second half at 2-0 down, took the game to them and I’m just disappointed we didn’t score a bit earlier.
I knew the character of the boys but they need to learn from this experience.
We’re not going to win every game or get something from it but we need to take the positives and perhaps work on what we didn’t do today, and the only thing we didn’t do today was start well in the first ten minutes.
Striker Tom Eaves got that goal on Saturday and is keen to add to his tally - three goals to his name already is a good return and he will be a threat tonight. Likewise, forward Conor Wilkinson will be one for Sunderland’s defender to keep an eye on.
The Treatment Table...
There was positive news this week regarding Dylan McGeough and Donald Love who, along with Adam Matthews who limped off against Scunthorpe, will all travel to London for a busy few days. This will be a welcome boost to both Jack Ross as he contemplates personnel for two games in quick succession. Charlie Wyke has also travelled, but won’t be in the matchday squads. Oxford United is perhaps the earliest we can expect to see him in a Sunderland shirt.
Whilst Tom Flanagan and Jerome Sinclair are making good progress, they remain on Wearside with Duncan Watmore and Aiden McGeady, who are both a little way off full recovery. The hope is that Wyke, Flanagan and Sinclair may be available in the very near future and having an almost full strength squad can only benefit the club.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Sunderland have sold all tickets for this evening’s game, with an expected 2,000 fans making the journey south.
For those unable to attend, there will be live streaming passes available on SAFC.com for both international and UK based viewers. Audio is also provided on the club website by Nick Barnes, and you can tune in to that from around 7pm 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.