Sunderland face League One rivals Gillingham FC at the Stadium of Light on Saturday in the first round of the FA Cup.
The match will be the second of three consecutive cup games for Phil Parkinson, after his side were defeated 2-1 by Leicester on Tuesday night in the EFL Trophy group stage. Our opponents currently sit 16th in League One after losing 3-0 at home to Rotherham last weekend.
Gillingham’s last visit to the SoL saw the side defeated 4-2, courtesy of goals from: Lee Cattermole, Tom Flanagan, Will Grigg and Aiden McGeady. The lads scored eight goals across their two fixtures last season against the Gills who eventually finished 13th, comfortably avoiding relegation.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Gillingham fan Josh Keeble-Wells of the Gills Fancast to discuss on the thoughts on the FA Cup in the modern era, as well as what we can expect from his team during the cup tie.
MC: The FA Cup possesses a fantastic history of underdog stories, for example when Second Division Sunderland defeated champions of England Leeds United in the 1973 final - what is Gillingham’s most famous achievement in the FA Cup?
JKW: We managed to reach the fifth round back in the 2001/02 season, eventually being knocked out by Arsenal, losing 5-2. But last year was a highlight too, knocking out Premier League Cardiff City in the third round.
MC: In the 21st century, a section of fans feel as though the competition has lost importance with managers using the ties as games for squad rotation, do you think the FA Cup is integral to any club’s season or a dying competition in need of a revamp?
JKW: Personally, I absolutely love the FA Cup and it still remains as one of the best competitions to win in England. As a lower league fan the cup is pivotal for sides like us, or other lower league sides who want to boost their finances.
MC: Gillingham currently sit 16th in League One five points above the relegation places, are you content with how the squad is performing or are concerned a relegation battle is on the cards?
JKW: Performances have varied this season, I wouldn’t say fans are content but I hope we have enough to keep us up.
MC: Steve Evans was appointed as Gillingham manager in the summer, he is vastly experienced in the EFL with a double promotion from League Two to the Championship with Rotherham being his standout achievement - what has he brought to the football club since joining?
JKW: The gaffer has changed many players from last year’s side. We’ve lost some big players such as Eaves and Holy, he has been tasked with the difficult challenge of replacing them.
MC: Gillingham striker Mikael Mandron was highly regarded by coaches at Sunderland academy, but he only made 3 league appearances before joining Eastleigh in the National League. How has he performed for Gillingham since joining from Colchester in the summer?
JKW: Mikael has struggled for regular game time so far this season, but despite only notching one goal so far this campaign, he acts as our only target man, so I expect him to tally up the appearances.
MC: The club lost 20 goal striker Tom Eaves, a player who was heavily linked with Sunderland, in the previous transfer window to Championship side Hull - how big of a miss has his goals been this season and do you believe he made the right move?
JKW: Without disrespecting our attackers, we simply haven’t replaced Tom Eaves, which was very hard to do on a shoestring budget. Eaves has only managed to score two goals so far this season with Hull in the Championship, hopefully Hull fans will see the best of him throughout the rest of the season.
MC: Sunderland are expected to play a full strength team for the match, who are the eleven players you expect Steve Evans to select?
JKW: (4-1-2-1-2 diamond) Bonham (GK), Tucker, Ehmer (C), Ogilvie, O’Conner, Jones, O’Keefe, Byrne, Charles-Cook, Hanlan, Ndjoli.
MC: If their was one player within the Gillingham team who you think Sunderland would be interested in signing, who do you think it would be and why?
JKW: Without doubt, Alfie Jones. The defender has been a fantastic coup for The Gills, signing on loan from Southampton. Jones has now moved into an unfamiliar defensive midfield role and still been our best performer.
MC: Lastly, Gillingham have never won at the Stadium of Light, what is your honest prediction for the final score of the cup tie?
JKW: Sunderland 3-0 Gillingham.