Sunderland return to the Stadium of Light this week looking to make it three home wins in three, and ultimately four wins on the bounce.
It’s still pretty early in the season, but already the top five are opening up a gap. The Lads are sat in second with only Peterborough above them, although if the Posh drop points for the first time this season, Sunderland could move into top spot with a win against struggling Oxford - however any dropped points by ourselves could see us leap-frogged by either of Portsmouth or Walsall.
The signs are good on Wearside and under the management of Jack Ross the feel good factor is back, with four wins from five games - who can blame us for feeling happy?
Whilst Lee Cattermole took the headlines last week, the main pull out from our comeback victory over AFC Wimbledon was that we didn’t actually play that well at all, yet still managed to come from behind and gain maximum points. It’s a sign that this team has plenty of character and can still pick up points even when they’re not at their best.
The Gaffer says...
Yeah, I think naturally you always seek perfection and, in that case, if we had won all three games it would have been a perfect start. But, 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.
Every game we’ve played we’ve shown signs of progress in each game and yesterday was probably the best one to date. It was another step forward in terms of making our home stadium a difficult place for opposition teams to come.
Yeah, for many different reasons I think its important that we win games there on a regular basis. Most importantly to get to where we want to try and get to this season. That will be the foundation behind it, it will very much be home form. So, that’s the initial aim and then beyond that, to encourage people to keep coming back.
The numbers that have came out in the opening home games has been incredible, it’s been well documented. But, I don’t think it should ever be taken for granted because fantastic support that has turned out in these opening games. Thankfully, we’ve provided them with wins and enjoyable games as well. But, the responsibility falls upon me and the squad of players to keep doing that and keep enticing these people back and hopefully more as the season goes on as well.
They say don’t change a winning team but we do have a fair few injury problems - mainly in defence - so Jack Ross will be forced into altering his back line.
Glenn Loovens and Adam Matthews have reportedly not trained all week and will be huge doubts, meaning Alim Ozturk should come in to replace the big Dutch defender, where Donald Love is likely to continue in the right back position despite a few shaky performances of late. You would also expect Bryan Oviedo to replace Reece James at left back after he came on for the former Wigan Athletic man in last week’s 2-1 victory over AFC Wimbledon, meaning a back four of Love, Ozturk, Baldwin and Oviedo will almost certainly start our game against Oxford.
Aside from the injury worries in defence, we actually have a positive selection headache in the center of midfield, with the return to form of Lee Cattermole meaning our star summer signing Dylan McGeogh might have to settle for a place on the bench again despite his return to full fitness. Alongside Catts, you’d expect the on form Max Power to keep his place, with George Honeyman just in front of him in the number ten role as Jack Ross looks to continue with as close to a settled first eleven as possible - although he’ll be secretly delighted he has so many options in the engine room to choose room.
Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire are certainties to start such has been their fantastic form in the opening month and whilst Charlie Wyke is in contention after his recovery from innjury, Josh Maja should be given the nod up front, despite failing to score for the first time in five matches.
Oxford have improved in recent weeks after a disastorous start that saw them lose their first four games on the bounce.
A thrashing at Barnsley on the opening day of the season was followed up by two disappointing home defeats to Fleetwood Town and Accrington Stanley, with a further hammering at Portsmouth sandwiched in between. However a 3-0 win over Newport Country in the Carabao Cup followed an impressive 3-1 home victory over recently relegated Burton Albion last weekend to show green shoots of recovery, and will have lifted the spirits of Oxford boss Karl Robinson going into a daunting trip to the North East.
Despite The U’s slight upturn in form, though, they still sit in the relegation spots in 22nd place and a seemingly free-scoring Sunderland front-line will be salivating at prospect of facing an Oxford defence that has conceded the most goals in the league - 14 in total - and four goals per game on their travels.
Oxford manager Robinson spoke of the difficulties of coming to the Stadium of Light and talked up our chances of promotion, sharing his admiration of Jack Ross’ work since he moved south of the border:
We’re going to have to be eights and nines out of ten if we’re going to win.
They’re the most resourced team in the league and they should walk it. There’s no bragging rights with whoever they beat – they’ve got the best training ground, best ground, best players.
The manager has come down from Scotland and has started really well. I think he will see this as a real opportunity this year to get back into the Championship. It’s going to be a difficult afternoon.
Where can I catch the match?
At the time of writing there have been around 31,000 tickets sold for today’s game, so if circumstances allow you to make it to the Stadium of Light, join me in cheering the lads on from the best seats in the house.
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.