Will it be fourth time lucky as Sunderland welcome Walsall to the Stadium of Light?
While the word ‘Walsall’ has entered the vocabulary of Sunderland supporters far too much in the past week, those extra tickets sold in anticipation for Wembley could prove to generate a bumper crowd.
Jack Ross’ side need to get back to winning ways after two away draws in a week but can they finally get the better of the stubborn Saddlers?
Jack Ross Says...
We are still in a good position to do what we want this season.
We travelled to a team [Barnsley] who are doing well and we took a point from a really tough one. I’m a bit surprised at the negativity at times when we took a point from a good side.
Players deserve more credit at times than they get. They have not lost a game since December and lost only two (league) games this season.
There’s a misconception we should run away with the league – absolute nonsense. It’s disrespectful to others in the league. We have had to earn every point this season and work hard for them.
Jack Ross confirmed that both Tom Flanagan and George Honeyman are back in training after sustaining concussions during The Battle of Adams Park a week ago. However, Honeyman will miss the game due to suspension.
The skipper’s absence could see Max Power reprise his advanced midfield role, while Ross will have another decision to make over whether to go with Lynden Gooch or Lewis Morgan in at wide forward. The game may come a little too early for Flanagan, and Ross may decide to stick with the centre half pairing of Jack Baldwin and Jimmy Dunne who kept Barnsley at bay on Tuesday.
Questions have been raised about Luke O’Nien’s suitability at right back, both with Adam Matthews and Denver Hume returning from injury. The former Wycombe Wanderers favourite has endured a dip in form in recent outings and Ross could be tempted to put in a natural full back for the visit of Walsall.
View from the opposition...
Walsall have been looking nervously over their shoulder in recent weeks. A horrendous run of seven defeats in eight after the turn of the year has sent the Saddlers spiralling towards the relegation zone. However, two wins in their last four keeps Dean Keates’ side two points off the dreaded drop.
A narrow 3-2 defeat to Portsmouth midweek left the manager frustrated at this side’s sloppy defending, but is hopeful that they can continue their role as Sunderland’s bogey team.
The Stadium of Light will hold no fear for the visitors who came away with a 1-0 victory in the FA Cup second round replay back in December.
Speaking ahead of their trip to Wearside, Keates said:
It’ll be nice if we are their bogey side. We’re going there and will give our absolute best to get a result. It’ll be an unbelievable atmosphere. As a club, as a group of players, there’s no pressure on us.
The opportunity is there to go and play.
All being well, we’ll give a great account of our football club and get something.
Walsall will have top scorer Andy Cook back in their ranks after the forward completed his three-game suspension. Aston Villa loanee Corey Blackett-Taylor could be in-line for a start after impressing from the bench against Pompey.
Last Time We Met...
Is anyone else sick of looking at Walsall? It feels like only two minutes ago that Sunderland were facing the Saddlers twice in the space of a week. The Midlands side do remain the only team to leave the Stadium of Light victorious this season after a solitary Liam Kinsella strike sealed Sunderland’s exit from the FA Cup at the second round stage.
Walsall haven’t ventured to Wearside for a league fixture since the autumn of 2003 - a Marcus Stewart goal was enough for Mick McCarthy’s side to vanquish a Walsall team which featured former Sunderland goalkeeping coach Jimmy Walker between the sticks.