Jack Ross was upbeat in his pre-match press conference when it came to talking about having an almost fully-fit squad to choose from for this vital trip to Burton. Aiden McGeady has been training with the first team again, and that will be a huge boost to Ross and his staff. With only Duncan Watmore still absent, Ross will soon have major decisions to make regarding his best team.
The handling of Charlie Wyke, Dylan McGeough and Tom Flanagan suggests Ross will resist the urge to throw the Republic of Ireland international straight into the fray, but with Chris Maguire’s recent form, there may still be changes to the side.
Our last meeting with Burton saw Darren Bent (inevitably) scoring and confirm our relegation. Whilst any sense of ‘revenge’ is hardly a concern, the form of the two sides since dropping into League One has been marked.
Sunderland remain unbeaten, whilst Burton have lost four of their seven games so far. A slight resurgence has seen them pick up four points from the last couple of games, so Sunderland must not underestimate the side currently occupying 17th place in the table.
The Gaffer says...
I think that we always knew that getting through the opening part of the season, with a number of injuries, that we would get better and stronger as the season went on.
I do believe now that the squad gives us more options. It creates healthy competition. I think players now in every position know that they need to keep performing at their best to make sure they stay in the team. Every manager wants to have that and I think at long last, we’re getting to that stage.
We’re in a good position; it’s a good solid platform to build on. It’s a good group of players and they understand areas that we can get better at and then how we do it. The early part of the game we need to get better at and I believe we will.
Overall, I’ve been satisfied and also pleased that I know we can get better.
[Burton] is probably an opposition that the players are familiar with because they still have some personnel that played in the Championship last year and because of that they’ll obviously be difficult opponents for us.
We expect the same as we have done in every game, home or away this season. A team that is desperate to try and beat us, we’ve seen that in every match we’ve played so far, and I imagine Saturday will be the same.
Max Power remains suspended and Duncan Watmore is still some way resuming his Sunderland career, but those pair aside, Ross has the luxury - and headache - of multiple options for each position.
Denver Hume has taken his chances with both hands this season, but Bryan Oviedo will be available following his recent international duties. Similarly, Alim Öztürk has looked better in recent games, but Glenn Loovens has made the jersey his own when available. In midfield, Lee Cattermole has shown great professionalism and has deserved his place in the side, whilst Josh Maja has scored regularly this season. Intergrating Dylan McGeough and Charlie Wyke, in particular, will not be an easy task for Ross.
The Sunderland side that ended the Fleetwood game so well is certainly one that needs serious consideration to start at Burton.
Tom Flanagan’s introduction for Adam Matthews gave us greater presence at the back and, against his former side, I’m sure the defender will be eager to start this one. Similarly, Jerome Sinclair brought pace and power to the side when he replaced Chris Maguire. The former Bury man hasn’t maintained the high standards of the opening games recently and may be due a rest. Perhaps Sinclair’s inclusion today will be a timely one.
Charlie Wyke will be chomping at the bit to start, but how does any manager drop a goalscoring forward? And will Oviedo walk back into the side at the expense of an emerging youngster? These are questions that Ross will be contemplating, I’m sure.
Burton manager Nigel Clough has a number of injury concerns, but commentators are suggesting that the Brewers’ system of play has started to look more fluid and effective in the last few games.
Talisman and goalscorer Liam Boyce is one Sunderland will have to keep their eyes on. His hold up play allows runners from midfield, whilst the striker himself has five goals to his name this season.
Clough has admitted his side are playing catch-up due to the injuries sustained in the opening months of the season. He is still without the likes of Jake Buxton, John Brayford and Damien McCrory, whilst David Templeton is recovering from an ankle injury picked up last week.
More worrying for Clough is the loss of his goalkeepers. Stephen Bywater and on-loan Chelsea youngster Bradley Collins are both out injured. Harry Campbell pris likely to make his first league start this weekend for Burton.
However, midfielder Ben Fox has spoken ahead of today’s visit and explained how the Brewers are looking forward to their home game:
[We’re] relishing it massively. They’re a good side and they’ll be right up there come the end of the season.
These are the kind of games you want to play in - the big games against the big teams.
Hopefully I can put in a good performance, the team can put in a good performance and we can get a good result.
Sunderland are a good side but we know we’re a good side and it’s important we go out there and show what we’re capable of.
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.