Sunderland enter this evening’s game against Blackpool with the promotion pressure cooker well and truly turning itself up, with only one win in our last five league games ensuring that things don’t run as smoothly as most of us would have hoped in the new year.
Coming off the back of another disappointing draw, this time away to Oxford United, Jack Ross and his side will be eager to get three points and move above Portsmouth into third, with further games in hand to come.
With many fans keen to see the team freshened up, Jack Ross has a host of options available and it’ll be interesting to see if he opts for changes to formation or personnel after weeks of substandard performances. The likes of Lynden Gooch, Luke O’Nien and Dylan McGeoch will be hoping to come into the manager’s plans after missing out from the start at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday.
The Gaffer says...
Speaking about the game following the draw at Oxford, Ross said:
Anytime we don’t win, it’s deemed as not good enough.
But the only way the point becomes of any benefit is if you win those home games. They’re not season-defining, but they are vitally important. It’s my job to make sure I pick the players up again.
We’ve got a huge seven days from Tuesday, three games at home, it’s massive for us. There’s no point disguising that.
If we win, we’re in an OK position. If not, we deserve a bit of criticism.
In Monday’s press conference he spoke at length about the pressure on him to get results after a poor run of draw, saying:
“There’s no team in any league in any country that wins 3/4-0 every week. You might get the odd team that have spectacular seasons, but even then you don’t win every week like that.
But we do work ahead time and time again to work on any deficiencies we feel we have got rather than just accept it as just the way it is.
“It can be a grind at times to do that because you don’t always get instant rewards, and sometimes in football you don’t get that at all. But as long as you can be satisfied in your approach that it’s been relentless then you can always feel like you’re doing your job suitably.
“It’s my team and it’s my responsibility so I don’t have a problem with criticism of me when it’s not going well.
“To an extent it’s right (that I can’t control the players when they go out on the pitch) because the players are in control of their decision making. I can’t control that. It’s probably why so many ex-players miss the game so much when they give it up because they don’t have that control.
“But I’ve no problem with the responsibility coming back to me, even for something that is out of my control. It’s why I’ve got this title. The buck should always stop with me.”
The state of play...
Saturday’s late equaliser for Oxford meant the Lads lost ground on the top two of Luton and Barnsley as both picked up resounding wins, with The Hatters winning 3-0 at home to Wycombe Wanderers and The Tykes 4-1 away to Gillingham.
Both teams are still within touching distance, with Sunderland having games in hand on both. A win over Blackpool this evening would put Jack Ross’ team only two points behind Barnsley in second with a game in hand, and eight points behind Luton with two games in hand. The win would also move us above stuttering Portsmouth.
For Blackpool, a three point haul at the Stadium of Light would lift them above Peterborough into seventh and place them a point behind Doncaster Rovers, who currently occupy the final Play-off spot.
Lee Cattermole returned to first team training on Monday, meaning Jack Ross has the benefit of pretty much a fully fit squad to choose from tonight.
How he will line up is perhaps the biggest question. Will he change up his formation and style of play to try and get his side out of the slump they seem to be currently stuck in, will he keep a familiar shape and change the personnel, or will he simply stick with the same side that came close to three points on Saturday?
Sunderland’s bench was strong on Saturday with Duncan Watmore, Luke O’Nien and Charlie Wyke all amongst the substitutes. Chris Maguire and Bryan Oviedo missed out completely, so there’s plenty options for Jack Ross to make changes to his starting eleven.
With Jon McLaughlin saving Sunderland points on a weekly basis, he’s guaranteed to keep his place in goal and is likely to be shielded by the same defence the started on Saturday as Adam Matthews, Jack Baldwin, Jimmy Dunne and Reece James form a back four. Although there is a possibility the Scottish manager could revert to a three centre backs, meaning Adam Matthews or Reece James could miss out.
The midfield is a bit of a different story, although regardless of formation, we would expect Grant Leadbitter to take the role in front of the defence. Who partners him is dependent on formation, but we’re likely to see George Honeyman continue to keep his place alongside one of Max Power or Lee Cattermole - though many fans are hoping to see a glimpse of Luke O’Nien.
Will Ross opt for a front two? New signing Will Grigg looked a little isolated up top on his own at the Kassam and didn’t get a sniff, so there’s a strong possibility Charlie Wyke could come back into the fore.
That said, we’re likely to see the former Wigan man flanked by Aiden McGeady and fellow new-boy Lewis Morgan, with McGeady still Sunderland’s main threat and Morgan looking a danger since his deadline day loan move. Lynden Gooch could have an outside chance of returning to the squad, but is likely to continue on the bench.
There could be a return for the likes of Chris Maguire, Kazaiah Sterling and Bryan Oviedo on the bench after missing out completely, as Ross attempts to keep a big squad happy and fresh.
Blackpool manager Terry McPhillips brings the Seasiders to the Stadium of Light in fine form with his side not suffering a league defeat since losing 1-0 to ourselves at Bloomfield Road on New Year’s Day.
Away wins over Portsmouth and Coventry City have put the Tangerines right back in the mix for the Play-offs and they come into the game on the back of a 2-0 victory over Walsall.
In fact, Blackpool are unbeaten in three on the road, without conceding a single goal.
There’s minimal injury worries for McPhillips, but he is without captain Jay Spearing who has suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of action for some weeks. Goalkeeper Mark Howard returned in Saturday’s win over Walsall after a five week absence and, after keeping a clean sheet, will retain his place in goal.
With no further injuries outside of Spearing, expect McPhillips to keep faith with the side that won on Saturday.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Tickets are still available for the game and the ticket office is open from 9am on Tuesday morning. Adult tickets are priced from £20.00 and under 16s £7.50.
Cash turnstiles will also be open from 6.30pm. Numbers 33-35 will be open in the north east corner, priced at £20 and numbers 37-39 in the east stand priced at £22.50. Concession priced tickets must be purchased from the ticket office, which is open until kick off.
For those unable to attend, audio commentary will be provided by Nick Barnes from around 2pm on both BBC Newcastle and the club website.
The game is also available via the Match Pass stream for all supporters. It’s £10 for UK residents and £6 for international fans. Full details can be found on SAFC.com.
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.