Sunderland travel to Bristol Rovers looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since, well, the last time they played The Gas.
With Barnsley and Portsmouth both dropping points during the week, it is an opportunity for Jack Ross’ side to cement their third place position and put pressure on those in the automatic promotion spots.
They face a tough test against a stubborn Rovers side who are unbeaten in their last four - can they emerge from The Memorial Stadium victorious?
Jack Ross Says...
I think when Graham [Coughlan] was in charge on a temporary basis, he had a reaction from the players, and we saw that when they came and played at the Stadium of Light in how difficult they made the game for us.
Their recent form has been good and probably similar to quite a lot of the games we’ve had recently, where on paper people have the wrong idea that it’s a straight forward game because of league position. The reality is, not only are these teams, as you mentioned, fighting to stay in the league, but a lot of them are actually in good form.
Bristol Rovers are another team that we saw during the week against Portsmouth, the form they’re in and the results they’ve achieved.
Any game away from home this season for us has been challenging, so it will be the same again on Saturday. It’s about for us, trying to maintain large parts of the performance level from the last few games.
Sunderland were dealt a huge blow on Tuesday after winger Chris Maguire broke his leg against Gillingham. The Scotsman’s return to the fold against Accrington Stanley managed to galvanise a flailing performance, and his absence for the next 6-8 weeks could be a major setback for Jack Ross.
Maguire’s absence is could see Lynden Gooch return to the starting line-up if the American shakes off a niggle from Tuesday night, or Ross may opt for on-loan Celtic winger Lewis Morgan to fill the void left by The King.
Despite Dylan McGeouch continuing to get better the longer he doesn’t play, the midfield axis of Grant Leadbitter and Lee Cattermole worked well against Gillingham and Ross will likely stick with his generals in the middle of the park.
Luke O’Nien’s impressive form at right back will likely see Adam Matthews having to settle for a spot on the bench, while full backs Bryan Oviedo and Denver Hume could be included in the matchday squad after lengthy lay-offs.
Ross may also be able to call upon Duncan Watmore, who missed both the Accrington and Gillingham games.
View from the opposition dressing room
Bristol Rovers are one of the enigmatic teams of League One. While they currently have the second worst home record in the division, they are on a run of just one defeat in their last ten. The promotion of Graham Coughlan from caretaker to full-time manager has turned the Gas’ fortunes around since the last time the two sides met.
Back in December, Rovers arrived at the Stadium of Light on the back of four straight defeats and languishing second bottom in the division. However, since the departure of Darrell Clarke, Coughlan has managed to steady the ship and has made Rovers a difficult side to beat. Having held Portsmouth to a 1-1 draw during the week, they will be hoping to make life tough for another of League One’s top sides.
Coughlan is sweating on the fitness on winger Alex Rodman, who is carrying a knock from the game at Fratton Park, while midfielder Ollie Clarke is due to return from suspension.
The Rovers boss is expecting a boisterous atmosphere at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday with the ground close to a sell-out in anticipation of Sunderland’s visit.
We know what they’re about and I am looking forward to Sunderland. As I said earlier, you can smell the big games, you can smell the occasions and as a player you get a sense and you get a feeling for that. I think we’re all looking forward to it.
I dare say, the crowd will be looking forward to it, to be honest. It’s a nice occasion. They’re reasons why players want promotions, why players want to get to the next level, because of games against Pompey, against the Sunderland’s and Charlton’s of this division.
They’re great games, great occasions and you just want to get out there and give it your all.
Last Time We Met
The world looked a whole lot rosier in December, didn’t it?
Sunderland’s 2-1 victory over Bristol Rovers put the Black Cats in third place, breathing down the necks of leaders Portsmouth and Luton Town. Adam Matthews cancelled out Alex Rodman’s opener before Josh Maja (remember him? He was so great) gave Jack Ross’ side back-to-back wins.
It’s been a while since Sunderland made the trip to the land of gas. The Wearsiders’ last visit to the Memorial Stadium was in October 2000 when a late Don Hutchison goal gave Peter Reid’s red and white destroyers a 2-1 win in a third round League Cup tie.
The two haven’t contested a league fixture since 1993 when Bath’s Twerton Park witnessed Sunderland blow a two-goal lead and that handsome Marcus Stewart helped Rovers salvage a 2-2 draw. For fans of history repeating itself, the last time these two teams met in the south west for a third tier game Rovers ran out 4-0 winners.
Where can I watch the game?
Sunderland will be backed by another sold out away end with over 1,400 Mackems travelling down to Bristol.
Those unable to attend can listen to audio commentary from Nick Barnes and Gary Bennett from around 2pm on both BBC Radio Newcastle and the club’s website.
The game is also available via the Match Pass stream for international supporters. Full details can be found on SAFC.com.
You can also follow events at The Memorial Stadium on our Twitter page and. We will be providing live commentary during the match, with a match report and player ratings available afterwards.