Sunderland head into the second of two away games in the space of three days knowing that the top five are already opening up a gap on the chasing pack.
Leaders Peterborough and Portsmouth maintained their 100% win record in midweek, but will be looking over their shoulders as Barnsley, Sunderland and Walsall remain unbeaten and are only two points behind. Fleetwood, Doncaster and Accrington Stanley are already a further three points adrift.
Whilst it’s early days and certainly nothing to get carried away by, the signs are encouraging for Jack Ross and his team. A new side, with new personnel and a new style of play, has settled quickly and the fans are loving watching their team once more.
Players like Lee Cattermole and Bryan Oviedo seem happy to be here, whilst young lads Josh Maja, Lynden Gooch and new captain George Honeyman are revelling in their roles. New signings Jon McLaughlin, Jack Baldwin, Glenn Loovens, Max Power and Chris Maguire have intergrated so well and so quickly that you forget they’ve only played a handful of games for the club.
It is hoped that we will continue to see their passion, drive and undoubted ability once more at the Cherry Red Records Stadium later today.
The Gaffer says...
[Wednesday night] asked a question of the squad but they responded really well.
I can’t take any credit for that as the manager, it is the players who deserve the credit for that - it was their resilience and character that got us back into the game.
We had to deal with a lot [against Gillingham] and we rode our luck at times as well, but that is going to happen. Away from home, teams are going to view it as an opportunity to take a scalp but that goes with the territory of us being in this league.
It’s not so much the scoreline, as proving that we are able to deal with the questions that were asked of us.
There are no new injuries, thankfully - it will just be a case of checking on fatigue because [Wimbledon] will be our third game in six days. Adam [Matthews] picked up a knock last Sunday and had to come off, but he is progressing well and hopefully he will be available.
Winning becomes a habit and Sunderland are quickly finding that habit. Three league wins from four has seen Jack Ross’ team cement their place amongst the early season pace setters.
The key to the early form has been a level of consistency. From Jon McLaughlin in goal, to the centre half partnership between Jack Baldwin and Glenn Loovens, through the revitalised Lee Cattermole and inspired signing Max Power, to the front four of Chris Maguire, George Honeyman, Lynden Gooch and Josh Maja, the Sunderland side is becoming a familiar sight. Slight tweaks due to injury, particularly at full-back, have presented league opportunities to Donald Love and Adam Matthews, Bryan Oviedo and Reece James. By and large, none have disappointed at this level.
Today, there is an expectation that Bryan Oviedo will return to the fold, despite the promising display from Reece James on Wednesday night. Donald Love, who was thrown in against Gillingham, will likely keep his place after it was confirmed that Adam Matthews won’t be fit enough to take part.
Perhaps the only other consideration is Dylan McGeough. The Scotland international made his long-awaited league debut in the second half on Wednesday and comes into contention today. Lee Cattermole has played a number of games in a relatively short period of time, but his form in every one suggests McGeough’s path to the first team is not so straight-forward. Ross may be tempted to integrate the Scot gently and not rush him into starting games immediately.
AFC Wimbledon occupy a healthy mid-table position, with one win and two draws from their opening four league games. Their first defeat came on Tuesday, when Walsall ran out 3-1 winners against the home side.
The Dons have had a tough opening, with league games against top six sides Barnsley, Fleetwood, Walsall and now Sunderland, plus having been played Portsmouth away in the league cup. They won that cup-tie and also beat Fleetwood on the opening day of the season. Draws against Barnsley and Coventry have given them a foothold in the league and they will be keen to recover from the Walsall defeat with a positive result today.
Striker Joe Pigott has made an impressive start, with goals against Fleetwood and Portsmouth, whilst first-team coach Simon Bassey confirmed that right-back Tennai Watson and captain Deji Oshilaja, both of whom missed the Walsall defeat, are expected to return today.
Speaking ahead of today’s game, Bassey said:
The spirit is good, it was a defeat on Tuesday, but the lads took a lot of positives from it. We will dust ourselves down and move onto fantastic challenges, that we are really looking forward to. We will go into the [Sunderland] game on the back of a defeat, but in really good form.
I was really pleased with a lot of aspects of our play [against Walsall]. I said in the office after the game that the first-half especially was some of the best football we had played for five or six years.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Sunderland fans have ensured the away end is a sell-out, once more.
For those without a ticket, audio is provided on the club website by Nick Barnes, and you can tune in to that from around 2pm on SAFC.com, whilst the game is being streamed live to international fans.
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.