Dear Roker Report,
Here’s a list of pluses and minuses ahead of the play-offs.
- If Mr Donald’s statement was true at beginning of season, saying promotion is expected of Mr Ross, then Mr Ross will rally his side for his job, the players will rise to the occasion to keep Mr Ross.
- We have the best squad in the league and can beat anyone on our day.
- We were unlucky against Pompey away and were in control until our sending off. In the first half at Wembley we played Pompey off the park. At the SOL we all felt unlucky that we got a draw as we were much the better team.
- We have the advantage of attaining good results v Charlton and Doncaster.
- Players may not want Ross, so our results lately might be a factor.
- We crack in big pressure games.
- We always conceded at least one goal.
- Our final run in is the worst of all four teams.
- Wembley hoodoo.
- Memories of Charlton the last time we got to the play-off final.
- We can not beat Pompey - they’re our bogey team.
Summing up, it points to heartache but I never give up and so I’m predicting 2-1 to the lads at home and 1-1 away. I think Charlton will thrash Doncaster over two legs. So, in the final, we’ll win 2-1 in extra time.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: I wouldn’t say we crack in big pressure games - we lost the cup final by a solitary spot kick, and our record against the top six this season is great (lost just once, the game away at Fratton Park earlier in the season).
The fact we’ve got a historically crap Wembley record and lost to Charlton over twenty years ago is pretty irrelevant to this group of players, let’s be honest. None of them played for us in 1998 and, if anything, the fact we’ve already had to deal with the pressure of a big game at Wembley this season would stand us in good stead.
I’m confident about our chances and think that the other three teams will have all hoped to avoid Sunderland in the play-offs. We’ve got the biggest fanbase and the most experienced squad, which counts for a lot in the knockout stages. Pompey are going to come here on Saturday and play in front of a Sunderland crowd who will be baying for blood - an unenviable position when your form hasn’t been particularly great. Let’s pick our chins up and embrace the play-offs. We need to win, we can win and the fans can play their part.
Dear Roker Report,
The team for Saturday - who knows what that will be? Not even Jack Ross knows... and I think therein lies our problem. The manager unfortunately still doesn’t know his best XI and surely after nigh on fifty games in all competitions he MUST know.
Be brave Jack and go for it, with: three centre halves, four in a diamond midfield with Catts at the back point and O’Nien at the tip, with Power and McGeouch in the centre. McGeady and Maguire left and right, with Charlie Wyke at centre forward.
That will do nicely! What do ya think, RR?
Come on Sunderland.
Ed’s Note [Gav]: Since you asked what I think... I think it’d be utter lunacy to change to a completely unfamiliar system days before such a massive game. If Ross was going to change to a back three then he should have done it after he signed Dunne in January, because these systems take time to perfect and time for the players to get used to them.
That aside, Portsmouth have immense pace down the flanks - I can’t bare to imagine what would happen if we played without full-backs and allowed Lowe and Curtis to run unopposed at our slow, tiring defence and Aiden McGeady, who is playing injured.
I’m just glad you aren’t the gaffer, Ron!
Personally I’d opt for something a little more traditional. We’ve played 4-3-2-1 against Portsmouth a few times this season and have done well, so it’d make sense to concentrate on something to that effect.
I’d opt with McLaughlin in goal, a back four of Oviedo, Ozturk, Dunne and O’Nien, with Cattermole and Leadbitter sat just ahead of them. I’d play an attacking three of McGeady, Maguire and Morgan in behind Charlie Wyke.
That to me looks balanced and primed to play on the front foot and really take the game to Portsmouth, who will more than likely be coming to try and contain us and escape back to Fratton Park for the second leg with either a slender lead or a draw, which gives them a great advantage to progress on home turf.