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Match Preview: Luton - Sunderland’s biggest game of the season so far as bumper crowd expected

Sunderland will leapfrog today’s opponents in the league table if they win, but standing in their way is a dyed-in-the-wool mackem interim manager. It’s all set up to be a tasty occasion - can we rise to it?

Sunderland AFC

Saturday’s visit of Luton Town is the type of game that all Sunderland supporters were hoping for when we endured the heartache of relegation. It is a top of the table clash in front of a bumper crowd at the Stadium of Light and provides an opportunity to regain a grasp on the automatic promotion places.

The Hatters arrive on Wearside still reeling from manager Nathan Jones’ decision to defect to Stoke City during the week. The former Brighton and Yeovil Town player has been the mastermind behind Luton’s resurgence from League Two also-rans to Championship-chasing entertainers. It now remains to be seen whether Jones’ departure will derail his now former side’s promotion bid.

For Sunderland, a win over Luton could be pivotal in their season and gloss over relatively patchy performances during the festive period. Saturday is set to be a huge game for the Black Cats, who know that a win can ignite the race towards the title while defeat will hand the visitors a four-point lead.

Sunderland AFC

Jack Ross says...

Nathan [Jones] leaving doesn’t change a huge amount.

I would say it changes far less than if he was leaving having not been successful because the reality is, Luton have had a style of play, not just this season, but for the previous season of his, that has brought them success.

I don’t envisage any changes to that.

So, for our preparations, it’s been relatively straight forward in having that belief that they’ll play in a similar way.

I think if it was a new manager coming in on the back of a disappointing period, you’d maybe expect changes.

Also, as much as I’m sure Nathan has been a huge influence on that, I’d imagine there’s a group of players that will believe that they’re the ones who produce performances week in week out.

So, they’ll come expecting to perform in the positive manner that they have done this year.

Sunderland AFC

Team News

Jack Ross could hand a debut to new signing Jimmy Dunne on Saturday after the central defender joined on loan from Burnley during the week.

Dunne’s arrival gives Sunderland more options in defence, with Glenn Loovens still unavailable following his injury against Portsmouth in late-December.

Full-backs Bryan Oviedo and Adam Matthews could be back in contention after the pair resumed full training. Should they be declared fit, Ross will have a decision to make over whether to reinstate two specialist full-backs or to stick with Luke O’Nien, who has excelled in his role as a makeshift right back.

Lee Cattermole completes a two-game suspension on Saturday so Dylan McGeouch and Max Power are expected to keep their places in the centre of midfield.

Chris Maguire will hope his goal against Newcastle under-21s on Tuesday will be rewarded with a starting spot ahead of Lynden Gooch, while Josh Maja is set to return to partner Charlie Wyke in attack.

Sunderland AFC

View from the opposition dressing room

How nice it is of Nathan Jones to go all weak at the knees, yearning for the tender embrace of Staffordshire before his current club’s biggest game of the season. What an absolute stand-up, gent. Here everyone, three cheers for Nathan Jones!

While the darling of seemingly every football podcast in the land has swanned off to try and get Saido Berahino to angle his shots in a vague direction of the net, it has left Luton Town in somewhat of a predicament. The Hatters are living up to their pre-season tag as promotion dark horses and following a relatively slow start to the campaign, they are in a tremendous run of form.

They are unbeaten since October 13th, winning 10 of their last 13 matches. However, the departure Jones and two members of his backroom team will place a huge question mark on whether The Hatters can sustain a promotion challenge.

There will be a familiar face in the away dugout on Saturday as Luton’s chief recruitment officer and Massive Lads Fan Mick Harford will be taking over as caretaker manager.

Speaking ahead of the game, Harford told Luton Today:

It’s an exciting time for me to come back and be the interim manager.

It’s a privilege to be asked by Gary and the board to take the team, so it’s something I’m looking forward to, something I’m going to embrace, and I’m going to enjoy it.

It’s all positive, exciting times. We’ve lost our manager, but it’s an exciting time.

It’s as we know an emotional game for me.

It’s my boyhood club, I’ve supported them all my life and I still do, I’m from Sunderland, born and bred, they’re my team.

It’s going to be a good day, a day I’m going to enjoy and hopefully there’s only one winner that comes out of it, on this day I want to Sunderland to lose.

MK Dons v AFC Wimbledon - FA Cup Second Round Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Last Time We Met

Sunderland supporters enjoyed a very “hello, League One” experience when the two teams met at Kenilworth Road back in August. It all seems a long time ago now, doesn’t it? Those that managed to clamber through the backyards and numerous washing lines were treated to a delightful Josh Maja opener before Matty Pearson earned the hosts a 1-1 draw.

Despite the disappointment shared among Sunderland supporters at a perceived dropped two points that day, it could prove to be valuable considering The Hatters’ formidable home form since.

Luton have not enjoyed the best of times on Wearside. You have to go back to 1973 for their last victory when Sunderland, fresh from a 2-0 away win against Vasas Budapest, went down to a single goal from Barry Butlin.

Luton’s most recent visit to the Stadium of Light came in December 2006 when Roy Keane’s Black Cats recovered from an early scare to grab a 2-1 victory with goals from Daryl Murphy and David Connolly.

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