Sunderland visit Peterborough today on the back of a solid home win over Doncaster Rovers. Four points separate the sides and The Posh will be hoping to close the gap on Rovers with a home win today.
Sunderland certainly won’t find it easy, but there is an argument that Jack Ross’ side have played their best football when faced with sides in and around the top six. The home games against Barnsley and Doncaster have arguably been the best home performances of the season, whilst the Lads were outstanding in the first half at both Fratton Park and Wembley against Portsmouth.
Sunderland approached the game on Good Friday knowing a nothing less than a win would do. Today they must go into the Peterborough game with the same mentality.
The Gaffer says...
You should always reflect, how you approach the games and what you can do better. On Friday we had to be slightly brave in how we approached the game, came off the game a bit more and allowed the opposition more possession.
Our discipline was really good. The expectation that comes with the size of the crowd, you always have to be on the front foot so the early goal helped the way we wanted to play.
We’ve got a lot of different options in terms of the team we pick. We need players on the park that can cope with that expectation and Lee’s one of those characters. He mentioned during the week about him bringing the best out of players around him because he organises and cajoles around the pitch and that’s a big factor as well.
Aiden is playing through the absolute pain barrier at the moment. To get close to 70 minutes from him is a lot; we will see how he is for Monday.
The state of play...
Sunderland’s victory over Doncaster Rovers was a huge victory for the club. Not only on the day, given both Barnsley and Portsmouth had won their games, but in response to the 5-4 defeat against Coventry City the last time out.
Jack Ross was bold, replacing both his centre-halves and bringing back Alim Öztürk. His decision and no-nonsense tactics when it came to defending showed the gaffer is clearly focused on achieving that primary aim of promotion at the first opportunity.
Four games stand in the way. Sunderland ended Good Friday four points behind Luton and two behind Barnsley. With a game in hand on the Yorkshire side, Ross knows his side can edge a point clear into second spot. The crucial game remains next Saturday, at home to Portsmouth, as the south coast side sit in the same position with 83 points from 42 games.
However, it’s a case of one game at a time and Ross will be fully focused on today’s opponents. Peterborough are now slipping away from the Play-Offs. Despite Doncaster losing on Friday, The Posh could only draw with Fleetwood and sit four points adrift of sixth place. Like Sunderland, Peterborough now have four games to rescue their ambitions, but that means winning games.
Today is a crucial game for both sides; however, if Sunderland are to maintain their hopes of promotion today simply has to be an away win.
Jack Ross brought back Alim Öztürk and Jimmy Dunne to replace Tom Flanagan and former Peterborough captain Jack Baldwin on Friday evening. The pair proved effective and were part of a defence that kept a clean sheet against a dangerous top six side. The sensible approach is not to make any changes, but having two games in 48 hours Ross may look at Öztürk in particular. The former Turkish U21 international hadn’t started a league game since September prior to Friday night and Ross will want to assess his fitness levels.
If Ross decides against using Öztürk in successive games, the options are recalling Tom Flanagan, who was on the bench against Doncaster, or bringing Jack Baldwin in for a return to London Road. Baldwin may be chomping at the bit to play against his former side, but Ross knows turning round a defence that conceded five to one that kept a clean sheet was no small feat.
At left-back Ross may also keep things as is, despite having both Denver Hume and Reece James available. Bryan Oviedo was sent off in the corresponding fixture back in October when a late Ivan Toney goal salvaged a point for Peterborough. Today the Costa Rican will looks to make amends and secure another three points away from home.
In midfield a late injury to Max Power saw Grant Leadbitter emerge from the bench to partner Lee Cattermole for the closing moments. Ross may look to start both his experienced midfielders, particularly if Power’s knock proves problematic. With Dylan McGeouch already out through injury, it could be a straight swap today.
Attacking-wise, the switch to 4-5-1 proved effective and could be the order of the day once more. Charlie Wyke played through an illness to provide both an assist and a goal and will be hoping to take his place again today. The return of Aiden McGeady, the drive of Lewis Morgan and the tenacity of George Honeyman provided perfect foils for the former Bradford striker. It is likely all four will be asked to go once more, with the potential of Will Grigg, Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire to change the game from the bench.
The view from the Home dressing room...
Manager Darren Ferguson was left disappointed with a point on Friday, when Fleetwood equalised deep into stoppage time. Marcus Maddison will be the danger-man against Sunderland this afternoon and he put his side ahead in the 64th minute. However, a missed first-half penalty, when he tried to dink it down the middle, could have had Peterborough out of sight.
Ferguson was quick to rue the loss of two points and knows reaching the Play-Offs will be a difficult task ahead of games against Sunderland and Portsmouth:
It is what it is. That is why we are not in the play-offs, because of things like that.
We need to concentrate for 90 minutes. It is a big disappointment and a bad result for us.
We were the better team. We had all the chances. We were very comfortably defensively until the last moments. The game should have been done and dusted by then. The chances we’ve missed at 1-0 have proved costly.
We really had to win today - and against Sunderland on Monday - and today I felt we could do that, and we should have done.
I now face a big task in picking the players up as that was physically and mentally tough to take.
It’s very damaging. We can still do it, but we will have to win all four matches to have any chance.
Where Can I Catch The Game?
Sunderland received an allocation of 4,069 tickets for today’s trip to Peterborough, meaning Jack Ross’ side will once more be backed by a big following. This is an all-ticket games, so none will be available on the day of the game.
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. 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.