Ah Good Friday.
The air is full of expectation. You’ve got four days off work, the weather is getting warmer and you feel like anything is possible. Well, replace that good feeling for an evening of nerves and tension because we’re hosting Doncaster Rovers!
In the joyous haze after our win away to Rochdale you probably didn’t expect this game to have so much tension surrounding it. A disappointing draw and a ludicrous loss later though and our tea time kick off now feels very must win at a crucial stage of the season.
Doncaster will have similar feelings though. A win here and they will have one foot firmly in the play offs. So despite Donny’s less than stellar away record, Jack Ross and co. can’t expect an easy start to the Easter weekend when they take on Grant McCann’s men.
With that in mind, we thought it was best to have a chat with Glen Wilson, editor of Rovers fanzine popular STAND to get the opposition view. Does Glen think Rovers can make the play offs? If so, will they go up? And how does he feel about this Friday’s vital game?
RR: It’s been a solid season for Rovers and it looks like you’ll claim a play off place. How do you feel about the season as a whole though? Do you feel like you’ve met expectations or could you have done more?
GW: It’s been great fun to be honest!
We’ve had a good league campaign, we’ve been significantly more enjoyable to watch under Grant McCann than we were last season and we’ve finally had the FA Cup run I’ve been waiting all my life for.
Throw in the fact that the club is in a good place, the people running it get what a football club like ours can and should be for its community and, aside from our atrocious kits, I can’t see how any of our fans can have any complaints at all, whatever happens from here on in.
RR: I mentioned the play offs there and it’s in your own hands to finish in the top six. Are you confident you can go up in the chaos that is the play offs if you do cement your place?
GW: No, not at all. Then again, I’m an eternal pessimist. It’s much easier to support Rovers that way.
As a club we’ve a good record in the play-offs - the two times we’ve been in them we’ve triumphed - but they were too long ago to mean anything to anyone in the current club, the fans and James Coppinger aside.
I think such is the make up of the sides up the top of this division that that whoever grabs the final play-off spot will be weaker than the teams above them. It will be a massive shock should whoever finishes sixth ultimately go up.
RR: The game we played out at The Keepmoat back in October was a pretty physical one - should we expect a similar level of intensity on Good Friday? Especially given the importance of this game for both sides!
GW: Yeah, our fanzine match report for that game mentioned that rather than play out a 2018-19 League One fixture the two sides had chosen instead to reenact the notorious 1970 FA Cup Final Replay between Leeds and Chelsea.
I’d be surprised if it went that way again, as I’m not sure it suits us to be dragged into a battle. The three points are arguably of more use to yourselves than us so it’s more likely to come down to how Sunderland handle the pressure and the weight of expectation. If that brings out a physical side then we’d probably be wise to step back and let you self combust rather than risk suspensions in a relatively small squad.
RR: It’s hard to look beyond John Marquis as the main danger man for you, given his goal record at this level. Is it all about Marquis or would you single anyone else out that Sunderland fans should be keeping an eye on?
GW: Hold on, do the management and players read this? If so, then yes, it really is incredible how many goals Marquis has scored from left-back. Oh and look out for the aerial threat of Alfie May, that’s our main attribute.
Assuming they don’t read this then no, it’s not all about Marquis at all; he’s the focal point of our system, and his goals record for Rovers is phenomenal, but he’s been out of sorts the last month or so.
Thankfully we’ve a lot of talent elsewhere in our squad; the two young loanees Mallik Wilks and Herbie Kane are great prospects and Ali Crawford is a fantastic footballer. Tommy Rowe is as good as anyone in this division on his day and of course there’s young James Coppinger tying it all together. Hell of a prospect that lad is, he’s got a bright future.
RR: Similarly, it’s all about Aiden McGeady when it comes to the main man in our squad. He could end up starting on the bench due to a recent knock though so is there anyone else in our team you’re particularly weary of?
GW: Nope, but that’s largely because I’m terrible at keeping abreast of players at other clubs, rather than through any over-confidence. I reckon if we can stop the long ball up to Niall Quinn and prevent him from getting the nod downs for Kevin Phillips then we’ll be OK, but it’s a tough ask.
Hang on, I’ve just looked up your current squad. Might have to adjust my tactical approach, but f**k me, how’re you not running away with it with that squad? Christ I wish I hadn’t looked. I’ll be having nightmares until Friday now. Go easy on us eh.
RR: How do you expect Grant McCann to approach this game and what do you think his starting line up will be?
GW: McCann has approached most games the same to be honest so I don’t see him doing anything different for Sunderland. He’s all about us playing to the best of our abilities rather than focusing on nullifying the other side. It’s not foolproof, but it’s certainly more exciting than watching a side take five minutes over every throw-in the moment they go 1-0 up.
Assuming Marquis is fit again, the line-up is likely to be Marosi in goal, Blair and Andrew at full-back. Centre backs will be two of Butler, Anderson or Downing - not sure who’ll get the nod there. Midfield three of Rowe, Kane and Crawford, with Coppinger and Wilks off Marquis.
RR: Finally, can we have a score prediction please?
GW: God knows. I think we’re good for a goal, but I’m fearful it’s going to be a consolation.
Sadly I think 2-1 to Sunderland, possibly even 3-1. I’ve never been a optimist.