On the back of being knocked out of both the FA Cup and EFL Trophy, Sunderland return to League One business against Coventry on Saturday at the Stadium of Light.
Our last League One match was three weeks ago as we beat strugglers Southend 1-0. The lads currently sit 9th in the table well below our expectations, but they do have two games in hand on the majority of the league.
On the other hand, Coventry are flying this season having lost just three times in all competitions. They sit proudly in 3rd place, four points behind second placed Ipswich, even after losing both Lee Burge and Jordan Willis in the summer transfer window.
In their last visit to the Stadium of Light, Coventry stunned Sunderland by scoring five, ending our unbeaten run at home and hammering a nail into our automatic promotion hopes.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Coventry fan George Baker to discuss how things have been this season for a club without a home stadium, as well as what we can expect from Mark Robins’ side during the match.
RR: Coventry currently sit third in League One after missing out on the play-off positions last season - how confident are you that a promotion push this season is a realistic aim for Mark Robins and the team?
GD: It’s definitely a realistic aim. At the start of the season I wanted a top six finish at the very minimum after just missing out last year. We have a solid defence and midfield, what may let us down is our in ability to convert chances at times as our strikers can be quite inconsistent. What has impressed me though as that once again we’ve been hit by injuries in key areas and yet we’re still third in the table and have taken 14 points from losing positions this season. There seems to be a real resilience to this group of players and that can only be a good thing!
RR: In the summer transfer window, Sunderland signed both Coventry’s captain Jordan Willis and first-choice goalkeeper Lee Burge - how frustrated were you to see the duo leave, and how have their replacements performed this season?
GD: In all honesty, I wasn’t that frustrated to see either of them leave. Burge had lost a lot of trust with the fan base after a string of high profile mistakes and his replacement, Marko Marosi is undoubtedly a significant upgrade especially when it comes to his distribution. As for Willis, he had earned a move after his loyalty to us over the years. My only frustration with him leaving is that it was to a league rival when I feel he was capable of making it in the Championship. That being said, his Michael Rose has been a great capture!
RR: Coventry manager Mark Robins was linked with the Sunderland job, but he was quickly ruled out after signing a new contract. He is vastly experienced managing in the EFL, winning both the League Two play-offs and the EFL Trophy with Coventry - how far do you think he can take the club?
GD: Some managers just click with certain clubs, like Klopp and Liverpool. Robins is our Klopp (to a certain extent!) Whilst he isn’t always the best tactically, he finds ways to make this young side we have successful and competitive on a small budget whilst constantly having our best academy players sold for profits. I’d like to think he can take us into the Championship and make us a regular competitor in that division.
RR: Another player who was integral to your League Two promotion was Marc McNulty, who scored 28 goals in his sole season at the club. The Scot has struggled for consistency so far at Sunderland, dividing fan opinion - do you think he is better than our other options Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke?
GD: It’s a shame it hasn’t worked for McNulty but I think he’s a victim of his own success in the sense that after that amazing season with us, people look at it and expect something similar. Is he better than Grigg and Wyke? I haven’t seen enough of those two to comment but there is no doubt in my mind that McNulty should be considered a top striker in this division.
RR: Going forward Coventry possess brilliant pace and power - who are the eleven players you expect Robins to select against Sunderland?
GD: 5-3-1-1 (or some kind of variation of this) - Marosi; Dabo, Hyam, McFadzean, Rose, Mason; Walsh, Kelly (c), Shipley; Westbrooke; Bakayoko.
RR: Coventry’s academy has received excellent praise within football, the club has brought through current England internationals Callum Wilson and James Maddison in recent years - how important do you think an academy is to the prosperity of the football club?
GD: An academy is integral to a football community. It creates a real link between fans and players. I think every fan of any club dreams of having one of their best players being produced from their academy.
RR: Your club are pone of six ex-Premier League clubs currently playing League One football. How did the fans learn to cope and accept the transition of becoming a lower league club?
GD: I think for us, the realisation of us being a lower league club was a lot smoother and this is due to several years of struggle in the Championship and having not been a Premier League club since 2001. So the culture shock was a lot more gradual compared to your situation.
RR: Over the past few seasons Coventry have faced relentless issues concerning the Ricoh Arena, and as a result are playing their home matches 20 miles away at Birmingham’s home ground - how has this affected attendances, and do you think the club will be playing back in Coventry anytime soon?
GD: The attendances have unsurprisingly dropped but the atmosphere at St Andrews is the best it possibly can be. We have to to get back to the Ricoh ASAP or we’ll undoubtedly encounter great financial troubles. The most frustrating part of this groundshare situation is the fact that aside from it, the state of the club is arguably in the best shape it has been for some time. So a move back home would see a real bounce in attendances in my opinion.
The last time Coventry visited the Stadium of Light they shocked everyone watching by winning the nine-goal thriller 5-4 - what is your honest prediction of the score this time around?
GD: It’s a tough one. We’re on a good run of form, and you aren’t at present, but you still possess genuine threats so I’ll go for a 2-2 draw.