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Match Preview: How costly could failing to win tonight be for Sunderland in the promotion race?

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Gillingham come to the Stadium of Light with just one win in their previous five games - and Sunderland need to win in order to renew their chances of automatic promotion. Time for a much-needed victory?

Image: Getty Images

Jack Ross has spoken of the need to kick on for the remaining months of the season and win the majority of those games if promotion is to be secured. Aware of Luton’s run but also the current form of Barnsley, Ross knows Sunderland have to turn the corner in terms of results, if not necessarily performances.

A manager known for meticulous attention to detail, Ross has rightly identified an uplift in performances of late. Sunderland have started scoring from set pieces again, they are creating more chances, and putting strikers in on goal.

Now the key is to translate those positives into points.


The Gaffer says...

The reality is we have made a lot of progression in a short period of time. But now we have to ensure we keep progressing and there’s some impatience that might come with that and I get that, but it’s not a problem for me in that respect.

I’ve got to make sure that I keep my players focused controlling what they can do and also reiterating the large positives of the last few games. The results have maybe masked big parts of the performances that have been a lot better than the previous four or five.

There was a large amount of frustration [last Friday] because of the expectation at the club and the onus on us to, not just try and win every game, but actually win every game.

There were big parts of the performances [last week] that were good. There was a lot more creativity but ultimately the end result will often determine the overall thoughts on a game. That’s just the nature of football all over the world.

The reality is, if we win all of those [remaining] games we will get promoted because the points total we’d end on would be very difficult for two teams to beat. Now, that’s going to be challenging, but there is more than enough in our squad to at least win the bulk of these games.

We have to be able to take that challenge on. The playing squad understand the task that lies ahead in the remaining months of the season.

Jack Ross needs to find a way of converting draws into wins if Sunderland are to be successful this season
Image: Getty Images

The state of play...

Sunderland remain fourth following the 2-2 draw against Accrington last Friday. From being two down, this may not be a bad point, come the end of the season. The fact that Portsmouth threw away a three-goal lead to draw 3-3 with Southend on Saturday means the gap to third remains a single point, with Sunderland holding a game in hand.

Barnsley and Luton secured victories at the weekend, meaning Sunderland are now six points adrift of the promotion spots. Despite having a game in hand on Barnsley and two on Luton, Sunderland need to start winning sooner rather than later. The gap to Barnsley needs to be cut immediately, whilst Luton sit a massive 12 points ahead at the League One summit.

Our opponents today lie in 17th, having won just once in five league games. Sunderland have found in recent matches that playing sides near the bottom can be as tough as those chasing promotion, so nothing can be certain tonight. However, the need for three points and a big performance to regain optimism on Wearside is paramount.

Mark Byrne secured victory for The Gills at the weekend
Image: Gillingham FC

Team News...

Jack Ross has confirmed there is little change to the make-up of his squad for tonight’s game. However, when commenting on Chris Maguire and responding to questions over how Charlie Wyke and Will Grigg are responding to the pressure, Ross did suggest the change to Sunderland's more usual style had brought the best out of his side.

Therefore, it may be safe to assume that Maguire will start tonight, perhaps in a central attacking-midfield role to play off Will Grigg. Charlie Wyke is likely to drop to the bench once more.

In midfield there are key decisions to make. Will Lewis Morgan’s direct style be preferred to Lynden Gooch? Will Duncan Watmore be passed fit and provide another option from the right? The chances are Aiden McGeady will be lining up alongside Maguire already.

How about deeper? Grant Leadbitter was brought to the club as a regular starter and is finding the range of passing we need. George Honeyman provides the drive and legs alongside him and these two will cement a central role again tonight. However, Ross could call upon Dylan McGeouch who has sat out the last few games, or Max Power who came off the bench last Friday. Lee Cattermole was an unused substitute and provides a further option. Yet it takes a brave man to best against the Sunderland supporting duo of Leadbitter and Honeyman leading the way tonight.

Defensively, Ross can make a few changes. He could opt for a revised formation or, more likely, tweak the central pairing. Jack Baldwin was defended in his press conference and perhaps there is an argument that Tom Flanagan needs to come back into the side alongside the former Peterborough man. Jimmy Dunne is a young man and taking him out for a break tonight won’t do him any harm. Ross has to find balance and stability in a defence that has now conceded first in successive home games.

With Adam Matthews, Bryan Oviedo and Denver Hume doubts, Luke O’Nien and Reece James are likely to retain their places ahead of Jon McLaughlin. Naming a strong bench that can change a game may still be Ross’ key dilemma tonight.

Chris Maguire must surely be starting tonight’s game after his performance against Accrington?
Image: Getty Images

The view from the Away dressing room...

A total of 50 points is usually enough to ensure survival, and Gills manager Steve Lovell is targetting 14 points from 14 games to reach that target.

Like I said last year, 50 points is something we want to get to as quick as possible and if we keep playing and battling like [Saturday] then we will soon get to it.

If we get another couple [of wins] we’re up in the top half. It is very close, it’s going to be tight. It will be a tight end to the season, we all know that, but we have done it before and we will do it again.

It was the fight that was shown by everyone [on Saturday], that was the thing. Only time will tell but it’s a win and all we can do is get the three points and move onto Sunderland away, which is a very good fixture for us.

We go there in a different frame of mind than we would have done if we lost the game. I think it is important we push on and after Sunderland we have four or five games against teams around us so the next few games are very important.

If we can stay resilient together defensively we will win a lot of games between now and the end of the season and pick up the points we need.

Gillingham v Tottenham Hotspur - Checkatrade Trophy
Gillingham Manager Steve Lovell is targetting 50-points for safety
Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Where Can I Catch The Game?

Tickets are available throughout today and through selected turnstiles this evening.

Cash turnstiles will also be open from 6.30pm. Numbers 33-36 will be open in the north east corner, with tickets priced at £20. Numbers 43-46 will be open in the east stand priced at £25. Concession priced tickets can be purchased from the ticket office up until kick off.

For those unable to attend, audio commentary will be provided by Nick Barnes from around 7pm on both BBC Newcastle and the club website.

The game is also available via the Match Pass stream for domestic and international supporters. 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.