Oh, look who it is.
Why do we seemingly play Portsmouth every week? Anyway - the two biggest teams in the third tier lock horns in front of the Sky cameras at the Stadium of Light on Saturday aiming to lay down a marker for the coming season. Both sides have made promotion a necessity this season and the pseudo-rivalry will no doubt be out in full force.
A win for Jack Ross’ Sunderland will relieve some of the pressure on the manager and lift the gloom a little of Wearside, while Portsmouth will be looking to banish the ghost of last season’s play-off disappointment. Just as long as we don’t have to play each other for a while, eh lads?
Jack Ross Says...
Every game is a must win because of the expectation and pressure on this club. We can only affect what happens in the future. We want to win the game on Saturday because we know the importance of doing that, particularly at home.
It doesn’t matter what time of year it is - winning games is important all-season round. We’ve played some good games against Portsmouth; this one is equally as big, and it should have a good edge to it.
The only way to achieve success as a club is if we are all together. That starts from the confines of the academy with all the staff and players. That extends to our fanbase which is incredibly loyal, passionate and committed.
Jack Ross confirmed that Glenn Loovens, Duncan Watmore and Ethan Robson all remain sidelined but Denver Hume and Dylan McGeouch are back in contention. The pair returned to training on Thursday after missing the win at Accrington with minor knocks but are expected to make Saturday’s squad.
There are still major question marks over the defence and most notably at left back. Hume has endured a tough start to the season and was withdrawn at half-time against Ipswich as Ross switched to a 4-4-2. Alim Ozturk is vying for a start at the heart of defence after a solid display at the Crown Ground.
Up top, Ross will have to make a call on whether to keep Marc McNulty and Will Grigg together or call upon the services of Charlie Wyke, who celebrated the birth of his first child with a goal at Accrington.
View from the opposition
Portsmouth’s determination to make this clash “a thing” has started in earnest, with Irish midfielder Ronan Curtis stating that he’s ready to “get a bit of stick” from the Sunderland faithful. However, despite all the pre-season hype, Pompey has started in somewhat indifferent style losing to Shrewsbury on the opening day before beating Tranmere Rovers last time out.
Boss Kenny Jackett confirmed that his side will be without striker Oli Hawkins who has a foot problem. Bryn Morris and Ryan Williams are also out but new signing James Bolton could be in-line to make his debut. Hawkins’ absence will give summer signing Ellis Harrison another chance to impress after bagging a brace in League Cup against Birmingham City.
Harrison is currently keeping John Marquis - a big money acquisition from Doncaster Rovers - out of the starting XI. And, as we all know, Brett Pitman fits kitchen.
Speaking ahead of the game, Jackett said:
We’re looking forward to the Sunderland game and it’s always great to be competing against big clubs.
We should look forward with enthusiasm but we want to come out of it looking like a good team and a side who are capable of performing well.
It’s a game we look forward to and it’s a TV game as well. Both sides are slightly different to where they were last season and sides do evolve.
We’ve lost a couple of big players but we feel we’ve gained some strengths as well. It’s a hard game and a good game, but Sunderland away on the TV is a game to look forward to.
Venue: Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Referee: Michael Salisbury
Last season position: 4th (League One)
Last 5 results:
(LC) Accrington Stanley (A) 3-0
(L1) Ipswich Town (A) 1-1
(L1) Oxford United (H) 1-1
(FR) Heerenveen (H) 0-1
(FR) Belenesses (N) 0-1
(L1) Tranmere Rovers (H) 2-0
(LC) Birmingham City (H) 3-0
(L1) Shrewsbury Town (A) 0-1
(FR) Crawley Town (A) 2-1
(FR) Stevenage (A) 1-0
Pompey on Wearside
16 May 2019 (L1) Sunderland 1-0 Portsmouth (Maguire)
27 Apr 2019 (L1) Sunderland 1-1 Portsmouth (Flanagan)
12 Dec 2009 (PL) Sunderland 1-1 Portsmouth (Bent)
08 Nov 2008 (PL) Sunderland 1-2 Portsmouth (Cisse)
13 Jan 2008 (PL) Sunderland 2-0 Portsmouth (Richardson 2)
Top goalscorers (in all competitions)
2 - Ellis Harrison
2 - Ben Close
1 - Tom Naylor
Last time we met
When the close of the 2018/19 season arrived both Sunderland and Portsmouth were that sick of seeing each other, it caused a number of brains to melt on the South Coast. Holding on to a slender lead from the first leg of a play-off, Sunderland were expected to cower under the white hot atmosphere of Fratton Park.
What actually transpired was a collective bottling from every player, supporter and manager associated with Portsmouth Football Club. Throughout the 90 minutes, they failed to really bother Jon McLaughlin and the only real impact of note was when a grown man wearing a baby grow attempted to fight Luke O’Nien.
Sunderland nil-nil’ed the hell out of the game and went on to typically lose in the play-off final.