Sunderland will be looking to end their winless run on Saturday when they face Simon Grayson’s high-flying Blackpool at the Stadium of Light - a sentence I did not ever expect to write!
Phil Parkinson is desperate for a result after suffering consecutive defeats at the hands of Burton and Gillingham. The Black Cats currently sit 11th, five points away from the play-off positions, with the mood across the fanbase at an all-time low.
In contrast, Blackpool sit fourth having not been beaten in six League One matches. Simon Grayson is thriving at the club, much to the help of his French talisman Armand Gnanduillet who has already reached double figures this season.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Tony Wilkinson, deputy chair of the Blackpool Supporters Trust, to discuss what Simon Grayson has brought to the club, as well as how what changes their new owners have made since their summer takeover.
Will Sunderland beat Blackpool?
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MC: In December 2010, Blackpool beat Sunderland 2-0 at the Stadium of Light thanks to a DJ Campbell brace. Sunderland sat 7th in the Premier League, with Blackpool one position below - looking back do you miss being a Premier League club, playing against the best teams and having various international players?
TW: Yes the Premier league is obviously where you ideally want to see your team playing but it does come with problems for supporters being inconvenienced by TV scheduling of games and expensive cost to attend games.
For Blackpool it was an unexpected dream to be in the Premier league that may one day be repeated, until then it’s great to see any progress at BFC and a realistic target is to get into the Championship in the next 3 years.
MC: Blackpool manager Simon Grayson was portrayed as out of his depth in the ‘Sunderland Till I Die’ Netflix documentary series - having watched that, how has that portrayal compared with his performance so far as your manager?
TW: The supporters of most clubs have a great expectation of a new manager when he takes over at their club but the reality is that the new manager needs to be given adequate time and resources before any success can be achieved. Simon Grayson has a good record of taking clubs from League 1 into the Championship and he is making good progress in the short space of time he has been at Blackpool.
MC: French striker Armand Gnanduillet has scored 11 goals already in League One this season, four times more than any Sunderland striker, are you confident he will still be a Blackpool player at the end of the January transfer window?
TW: The January transfer window will be very interesting at Blackpool this season, due to our new ownership and management team now at the club. Blackpool have always been a selling club and if someone is prepared to offer a silly amount for any player it would be good business to take the money. But with the new investment in the club we don’t need to sell and will hopefully be able to strengthen the squad.
MC: Like Gnanduillet, Blackpool winger Liam Feeney has performed brilliantly this season, assisting the most goals in League One so far - how important is having a reliable creative player in your team and why is he so effective?
TW: Liam Feeney is a very consistent player and has a great record for his assists, very few defenders have been able to stop him this season. He is an important player for Blackpool and very effective at getting the ball into the opposition penalty area. He did score his first goal last Saturday and I think we may now see more goals from Liam.
MC: Former Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing is a well-known player to Phil Parkinson having played under him at Bolton. He has a similar playing style to former Sunderland fan-favourite Lee Cattermole - are you surprised he is not still playing at a higher level?
TW: Yes, Jay Spearing has spent the majority of his career playing at Premier League or Championship level and would still be an asset in the Championship, hopefully with Blackpool soon.
MC: In the summer Blackpool supporters were finally put out of their misery after a takeover of the club was completed. Now the Oyston era is over, what changes have the new owners brought both on and off the pitch?
TW: The whole of Blackpool FC has been totally refreshed now that we have new owner Simon Sadler. On the pitch we have Simon Grayson appointed as manager in July and he has brought in some players on loan and as new signings.
The pitch and stadium are being upgraded in all areas, it’s a much needed improvement that will take time to complete considering the lack of investment previously.
MC: That takeover brought the end to the boycotting of home matches, how good has the atmosphere at Bloomfield Road been now that Blackpool fans can enjoy attending home games again?
TW: The end of the boycott is a massive boost for everyone at Blackpool and a great matchday atmosphere is now created by supporters. The Sunderland supporters who come to Bloomfield road for the fixture in March will see a difference from when they last visited on new years day 2019. Unfortunately for Sunderland there won’t be 8000 tickets available this time due to the end of the boycott.
MC: Who are the eleven Blackpool players you think Grayson will select against Sunderland and what has your style of play been this season?
TW: Simon Grayson will probably select the same starting eleven that beat Fleetwood 3-1 last Saturday, with the exception being a change of the suspended Ben Heneghan leaving a place for Curtis Tilt to return. Tactics and line up are on a game by game basis from Grayson, but we will line up a hard to beat side with attacks on the break being relied on to produce goals for the Pool. The likely starting eleven will be:
23 Jak Alnwick, 5 Ryan Edwards, 7 Nathan Delfouneso, 8 Jay Spearing (C), 10 Sullay Kaikai, 11 Liam Feeney, 16 Curtis Tilt, 17 Matty Virtue, 20 Ollie Turton, 21 Armand Gnanduillet, 26 James Husband. (3-4-1-2)
MC: Sunderland have failed to beat Blackpool in your two visits to the Stadium of Light - what is your honest prediction of the final score on Saturday?
TW: I am really looking forward to the game and another win for the Seasiders.
Sunderland 1 Blackpool 2.