Sunderland play their second match at the Stadium of Light on Saturday against our League One promotion rivals Portsmouth - a game that, even at this stage of the season, feels like a must win for Jack Ross’s side who have drawn their opening two matches.
Whilst we were victorious against Portsmouth over two legs in the playoffs last season, Kenny Jackett’s side lifted the EFL Trophy at our expense following a missed penalty from Lee Cattermole back in March - it’s fair to say that there’s a bit of bad blood between the two clubs.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Pompey fan Will Short of Absolute Radio to talk about how our mates from the south have started the season, and to see what he thinks about Sunderland’s chances of picking up a win.
MC: Sunderland and Portsmouth played one another five times across last season. Do you think a form of rivalry has been developed between the two sides?
WS: I think it’s less a rivalry and more the old saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ – I know I wasn’t the only Portsmouth fan less than enthused about the idea of a trip up to Sunderland in August having had two trips up there so late last season.
That said, as two of the bigger clubs in the division there’s naturally bound to be an element of rivalry between the two teams as we’re probably both aiming for the top 2 as a minimum, whether we’ll still be ‘rivals’ in a couple of seasons is unlikely in my eyes.
MC: There is a feeling amongst our fanbase that we must get promoted this season at all costs, is that pressure shared at Portsmouth being a fellow ex-Premier League club?
WS: There’s always fans who demand instant success within any fanbase and while I think we should definitely aim for promotion this season I don’t think the owners should panic if we have a slight blip or take a bit longer than expected to get started.
That said, if we end the season having not won promotion I’m not sure Kenny will have a fourth season at the club.
MC: Kenny Jackett’s side have begun the season with a surprise defeat against Shrewsbury followed by a convincing home win against Tranmere. Are you frustrated at all by their opening results?
WS: It’s been an odd one, by all accounts we did everything but score against Shrewsbury however, it is a game that if you want to go up you should be winning.
When you take into account 6 new players featured in that game then it becomes a bit more understandable and I think it’ll take us a while to fully click, if we’re still having a stop-start season in October I’ll be concerned.
MC: Portsmouth lost two of their best players during the current transfer window, Jamal Lowe to Wigan and Matt Clarke to Brighton. Do you feel the club have replaced those two adequately?
WS: I think we’ve replaced Jamal well with Marcus Harness. By all accounts Jamal had decided he wanted to leave and so it’s better to get him gone and replaced with someone who wants to wear the shirt. Harness has looked tidy so far and if Marquis helps take the goal scoring burden off that right wing position we’ll be fine.
Clarkey is a harder one to replace, he’s already shown with Derby he can play well in the Championship and I think he could have done a good job at Brighton had he not gone on loan. We were obviously not going to get a player of that standard in to replace him but Paul Downing looks solid as if we can stay relatively injury free at the back this season I think we’ll have a very solid back four.
MC: Having said that, the signing of John Marquis from Doncaster was lauded by many pundits. Do you this signing was a big statement of intent from the club?
WS: Marquis is a massive signing in my opinion. With Brett Pitman wanting to play in the 10 role we looked pretty light up top. Ollie Hawkins is a great striker to hold up play and bring others in but he’s not going to get you 15+ goals a season.
Marquis brings that physicality AND a great goal-scoring record so I’m very happy with being brought in. That said when you pay about £2 million for a striker in the 3rd Division they have to be good, so no pressure!
MC: Whilst Sunderland have mainly signed new players on free transfers, Portsmouth have paid transfer fees for several players, are you satisfied with the clubs’ business overall?
WS: I think we’ve had a great window, and given we’ve lost our two best players from last season I think Kenny, Mark Catlin and the rest of those involved with transfers deserve a lot of credit. We’ve strengthened in areas we looked a bit flat in last season and we’ve replaced the two lads who’ve left. That said, if we have a rubbish season then we’ll all think this window was a terrible one!
MC: Much has been said about the partnership between Tom Naylor and Ben Close in central midfield. Do you think those two players are integral to making Portsmouth succeed?
WS: They’re both class acts, especially Close who’s had his doubters down at Fratton who he has undoubtedly silenced with his two screamers last week.
As a whole I think our central midfield looks really exciting this season, Naylor is solid as anything and an absolute warrior, Close brings a touch of class (and a Pedro Mendes-esque shooting ability) and despite his red card against Shrewsbury I’m very excited about Ross McCrorie coming in from Rangers, I think he’ll have a great season if he can dislodge either of the other two.
Whether all our success (or otherwise) will come as a result of the central midfield is debatable, I think we look exciting on the wings, we’ve got a cracking keeper in Craig and a set of strikers who now look a real threat, I think there’s a lot to be excited about as a Portsmouth fan this season.
MC: Do you think Portsmouth possess the psychological edge having beat Sunderland in the EFL Trophy final, or has that changed since we were victorious in the play-off semi-finals?
WS: I’m not sure about that one really. Being at Fratton for the second leg of the play-off semi we did at times look like a team who didn’t believe they could win but now we’re into a new season and the lads have had a summer to go away and get over that hopefully it won’t really come into it this Saturday. The biggest psychological thing for us will probably be the fact less fans can make the trip up as the game is 12:30 on a Saturday.
MC: Lastly, what do think the final score will be at full time on Saturday?
WS: Heart says 1-0 win, head says 1-0 loss, so let’s meet in the middle and say 1-1.