There are some dark forces floating around the universe that are conspiring to ensure that Sunderland AFC and Accrington Stanley never face each other in a league fixture.
From the monsoon that engulfed the Wham Stadium in December to the unexpected progress of the Lancashire side in the FA Cup, someone out there does not want these two teams to meet.
Sunderland are in the midst of a hectic fixture schedule as they attempt to claw back the deficit on the league leaders by sweeping up their games in hand. Accrington pose another tricky test for Jack Ross’ side and three points is vital as the home stretch of the season approaches.
Jack Ross Says...
You can enjoy your Saturday afternoon if we win Friday, watching the other results coming in. The psychological boost of playing Friday night, if you win, is obvious.
Tuesday [versus Blackpool] was a lot more pleasing than in recent weeks, the number of chances created and time spent in their box. We couldn’t have done an awful lot more, then it was about taking those chances.
It is obvious to say we need to turn more draws into wins, it is about keeping pace with those above us.
The pressure has been there from the opening day of the season, it is ever present, it is about embracing it. And getting a positive result.
Sunderland will be without Duncan Watmore on Friday evening with Jack Ross confirming the forward requires extra recovery time. After suffering two ACL injuries in the past two years, Ross is weary about managing Watmore’s recovery and is hopeful that he will be ready for selection for the visit of Gillingham on Tuesday.
Ross admitted there a few fitness concerns going into the Accrington game but will still have a large squad to choose from. Midfielders Lee Cattermole and Max Power are back in contention with the latter missing the Blackpool draw as his wife gave birth to their third child.
The game comes a little early for full-backs Bryan Oviedo and Denver Hume who both returned to training during the week.
Sunderland produced an encouraging attacking display against Blackpool, fashioning a number of chances to win the game but lacked a killer touch. The surprising starting line-up saw Aiden McGeady, Lynden Gooch and Watmore support striker Will Grigg and Ross will need to decide whether to stick with this formula or pair the former Wigan man with Charlie Wyke.
There could be a recall for Chris Maguire, who has not featured since the 1-1 draw with Scunthorpe United, while debate has been raging as to whether Dylan McGeouch will get a starting berth in the centre midfield. In defence both Adam Matthews and Tom Flanagan are one yellow card away from suspension.
View from the away dressing room
After starting their League One campaign like a house on fire, Accrington arrive at the Stadium of Light without a league win since Boxing Day and have drawn a blank in their last six matches. This slump in form has seen them abandon lofty ambitions of battling for a play-off spot and are now looking nervously over their shoulder.
Stanley are just three points off the relegation zone, albeit with two games in hand, and manager John Coleman has admitted concern over his side’s barren run. Their 2-0 defeat at the hands of Scunthorpe United last weekend means the Reds have gone 629 minutes without finding the back of the net.
Coleman told the Lancashire Telegraph after the Scunthorpe game:
“Very [concerned at the league position] but I’m more concerned we are not scoring goals to be honest. If we score goals, I know it will all change because we are a good side.
“In the main there was not a lot between the two sides (on Saturday) if you are honest and you analyse it from a neutral point of view.
Coleman will once again be looking to his talismanic centre forward Billy Kee to recapture the form that had Stanley fighting at the top of the table earlier in the season. However, he could be tempted to give run-outs to January signings Luke Armstrong and Paul Smyth as he tries to find a remedy for his stuttering side.
Last time we met
If a game could encapsulate the beauty of Sunderland’s return to the third tier for the first time in 30 years it would be their trip to Accrington.
Those who experienced ‘Hurricane Wham’ in early-December will probably have just finished wringing out their under garments as the first ever league meeting between Sunderland and Stanley was abandoned after 72 minutes.
In the midst of the Lancashire monsoon, Chris Maguire bantered Sunderland into the lead charging down a clearance from goalkeeper Connor Ripley with his arm while the home side equalised through Connor Hall bundling the ball in through a puddle. Will Sunderland and Accrington manage to complete their first ever league meeting this time?