Sunderland head back to the north west today looking for their third league win on the bounce and heap the pressure on relegation-threatened Rochdale.
The Black Cats bounced back from their Wembley heartbreak in fine style at Accrington Stanley and will complete an encouraging week with victory over an improving Rochdale side.
A win on Sunderland’s first ever visit to Spotland would provide a real boost as we hit the home straight on the League One promotion race.
Jack Ross says…
There’s a lot of parallels with Wednesday evening because of where the opposition find themselves and the type of ground we’re going to.
I think add in the fact they’ve appointed Brian [Barry-Murphy] as their new manager. He had the job on an intern basis but it changes the dynamics as well.
The reality is, we’re playing a team that has as much to play for as we do at this stage in the season.
We need to provide a very similar performance to what we did on Wednesday evening.
I think the players have shown that they have resilience and character throughout the season. The group are in a good place and I sensed very quickly after Sunday’s game that it only strengthened their desire to bring success to the club.
The state of play
Sunderland’s dominant 3-0 victory at Accrington put the Black Cats within three points of second-placed Barnsley with two games in hand. The Tykes travel to Burton Albion on Saturday, a side that held them to a goalless draw at Oakwell in February.
Should Barnsley lose to Burton and Sunderland win at Rochdale, with a four-goal swing, the Wearsiders will return to the automatic promotion spots for the first time since December. League leaders Luton Town are currently 10 points clear of Sunderland and face promotion-chasing Blackpool at Kenilworth Road.
If the promotion race is a burning ember, then the scene at the bottom is a raging bushfire. Only seven points separate the entire bottom half with even Gillingham in 13th nervously looking over their shoulder.
Rochdale are currently 23rd but only occupy a relegation spot on goal difference and have a game in hand. A victory for the Dale could see them rise to as high as 17th.
Jack Ross’ major worry ahead of the trip to Rochdale is the fitness of Aiden McGeady. The Irishman, who has been in scintillating form in recent weeks, was taken off at half-time at Accrington after picking up a knock. Ross confirmed that the winger will be assessed before travelling to the north west.
Sunderland will also be without Reece James and Lee Cattermole, who haven’t recovered from their exertions at Wembley while Adam Matthews, Chris Maguire and Duncan Watmore all remain out with injuries.
James’ absence will see academy product Denver Hume continue at left-back after impressing against Portsmouth and Accrington. Skipper George Honeyman is back from suspension but may have a difficult time finding a spot in the team after an impressive performances Max Power and Dylan McGeouch on Wednesday.
Charlie Wyke is expected to partner Will Grigg up front once again.
View from the opposition
Rochdale confirmed Brian Barry-Murphy as permanent manager ahead of the Sunderland game after a successful spell as caretaker following the sacking of Keith Hill. Under Barry-Murphy’s tutelage, the Dale have arrested an alarming slide that culminated in 10 defeats in 12 and are currently on a four-game unbeaten streak.
The visit of Sunderland is being treated as a cup final by the hosts with a bumper crowd expected at Spotland. Barry-Murphy has talked up the day and believes Rochdale will prove a stern test for Jack Ross’ men.
“It’s a huge day for the club and a great day for all our supporters and everyone connected with the club.
”It’s symbolic of what I always thought we were as a club, going up against one of the bigger teams and we’ve had some amazing days, at our own ground and away, against the giants of this division.”
The home side have one of the oldest strike partnerships in League One with 34-year-old Ian Henderson lining up alongside 39-year-old Aaron Wilbraham. The pair have bagged a combined 20 goals this season, however it is at the back where the problems lie where the Dale have conceded a huge 77 goals so far this campaign.
Last Time We Met
In the hazy September sunshine, Sunderland and Rochdale met in their first ever league encounter and Ross’ gorgeous boys romped home 4-1. A brace for both Josh Maja and Lynden Gooch put the Lancashire side to the sword.
Contrary to popular belief, Sunderland have graced Spotland in a competitive fixture before, well, pseudo-competitive. Yes, back in September 2016 when Davey Moyes had already condemned the first team to relegation after just three games, Robbie Stockdale took a star-studded team to Rochdale in a Checkatrade Trophy group game.
A side that featured George Honeyman, Ethan Robson, Josh Maja, Elliott Embleton, Jan Kirchhoff and current Champions League player Jason Denayer ground out a 1-1 draw before winning on penalties for that sweet bonus point.