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Match Preview: New-look Sunderland aim to trample bottom side AFC Wimbledon at the SoL today

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Can Sunderland’s new-look side turn a run of draws into a much needed victory today and begin to close on the automatic places in League One once more with a win over AFC Wimbledon?

Image: Getty Images

The transfer window is closed and the reality of winning promotion from League One is now firmly the focus for the coming months. Jack Ross may have lost a couple of strikers, but the late drama over Will Grigg’s arrival from our current feeder club, Wigan Athletic, has shaped Ross’ squad for the run-in.

The loss of Josh Maja was perhaps inevitable when the early days of the window passed without his contract being signed. The decision to send misfiring striker Jerome Sinclair back to parent club Watford was questioned in some quarters, but as January turns to February, Ross is arguably stronger in his striker options. Charlie Wyke is now fully recovered, Grigg brings experience and goals and in Kazaiah Sterling, on loan from Premier League giant Spurs, we have another 20-year-old keen to make his mark this season.

With the additions of Jimmy Dunne, Grant Leadbitter, Lewis Morgan and the permanent signing of Max Power to bolster the ranks, now is the time for the Sunderland side to kick on and complete the job of immediate promotion. Today is the start of that run and, as Ross said after the draw at Scunthorpe on January 19th, we simply have to hit our stride from now on.

The pressure will now be on Charlie Wyke to lead the line
Image: Getty Images

The Gaffer says...

You try and come out of a window in a stronger position than when you went into it, or at least not weakening in any way, and I think we’ve managed to do that. I suppose we were in a difficult position from earlier on in the window that we sold our top scorer with a week to go in the window. Any club would find that challenging.

Stewart genuinely gets excited about owning this football club and everything that comes with it. He’s been very supportive with everything I’ve tried to do at the club, and I think he was keen to try and make sure that we left the window in a stronger position and I think he feels that he’s managed to do that.

I think we also have to point out that the squad has had a good season to date. We’re not top of the league, but we’re in a good position, we’re in a semi-final and we’ve only lost two league games.

We needed to add value. Jimmy Dunne was a position we needed. Grant is a really good player and is absolutely determined to bring success to this club. Lewis is somebody I know really well and then the very obvious one was a striker because we lost Jerome Sinclair in the window and Josh compounded that. Kazaiah Sterling will join us from Tottenham Hotspur, which I’m pleased about. He’s a young player who has a huge amount of potential and he gives us a dynamic option in a forward area, [and now] Will Grigg, having had a late bid accepted.

I feel as if we’ve left ourselves in a position now as we go into the remaining 19 league games and the cup semi-final, hopefully a final, in a good position.

It’s nice to get to the 1st of February and look forward to the game. Every game we’ve had at the Stadium of Light this season, there’s been no easy games for us, and I don’t expect it to be any different tomorrow.

We now have a clear understanding of the next run we have ahead of us, the number of games we’ve got and where it takes us if we produce positive results within them.

Jack Ross was happy to end the transfer window in a stronger position for the final promotion push
Image: Getty Images

The state of play...

Since Sunderland last played at Scunthorpe, results elsewhere have left us in fifth spot and some four points off the automatic promotion places. Luton’s victory in the table-topping clash with Portsmouth has them nine points ahead of Sunderland.

However, with three games in hand, promotion remains very much in the hands of the Wearsiders. The biggest concern will be turning draws - four in our last five games - into victories. Jack Ross hinted that Sunderland had to hit the ground running after the break following the Scunthorpe draw and, bolstered by the likes of Grant Leadbitter and Lewis Morgan, that has to be outcome today.

Wimbledon lie bottom of the league on 23 points, having lost three and drawn two of their past five league encounters. A surprise FA Cup win over West Ham will undoubtedly have raised spirits, but Sunderland must take advantage of playing the league’s basement side in front of an estimated 30,000 home fans this afternoon.

Sunderland need to find three points in front of another big crowd this afternoon
Image: Getty Images

Team News...

Jack Ross will have worked on formations and personnel for the past couple of weeks in an attempt to correct a mini slump in Sunderland’s season. Jimmy Dunne has settled into the side and will hope to keep his place, following his league debut alongside Tom Flanagan at Glanford Park. Jack Baldwin, meanwhile, will be itching to resume his place in the heart of defence. Could Ross revert to a back three for today’s game and play all three of his centre-halves, providing a foundation for an attacking game? Adam Matthews is now fit and will contest the right side of defence with Luke O’Nien, whilst Reece James and Bryan Oviedo will continue to fight it out on the left hand side.

In midfield, Grant Leadbitter is expected to start upon his return to the club, but alongside who? Dylan McGeouch maintains possession very well and could be Leadbitter’s perfect partner, whilst Max Power will be disappointed if he have to make way. Captain George Honeyman is back in training and, such has been the team’s form without him, Ross may consider him for an immediate return. Lee Cattermole has had a knock this week and remains a doubt for today’s fixture.

The same can be said in attack, where Lewis Morgan will be an immediate consideration. Having built his attack around the young Scot, Ross knows his quality all too well. With Lynden Gooch looking jaded recently and Chris Maguire finding himself on the bench in recent weeks, Morgan will offer an option today to play alongside Aiden McGeady.

Will Grigg signed late on deadline day and carrying an ankle injury from his last outing for Wigan, so it’s likely Charlie Wyke will start today. Kazaiah Sterling offers an alternative, but the Tottenham loanee may settle for a place on the bench.

Grant Leadbitter’s return to Sunderland was an outstanding signing
Image: Getty Images

The view from the Away dressing room...

21-year-old Shane McLoughlin could be included in the Wimbledon squad for the first time after completing a switch from Championship outfit Ipswich. On-loan full-back Steve Seddon is also available, having missed last weekend’s match due to being cup-tied.

Wally Downes may not deviate far from the side that beat Premier League West Ham in the FA Cup fourth-round. Looking ahead to today’s trip, Downes knows this is another tough test for his Wimbledon side:

The players need to be strong enough mentally to take the performance that we gave against West Ham.

They’ve got to remember how we played and what made us effective and have the humility to work as hard again.

The players have to perform.

AFC Wimbledon v West Ham United - FA Cup - Fourth Round - Kingsmeadow
Wimbledon manager Wally Downes
Photo by Daniel Hambury/PA Images via Getty Images

Where Can I Catch The Game?

For those wishing to buy tickets today, the ticket office will be open from 10am until kick off. Cash turnstiles will also be available from 1.30pm, with 37-40 and 47-50 open in the east stand, priced at £20. Concession priced tickets are available from the ticket office, but not on the cash turnstiles.

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 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.