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Match Preview: Sunderland travel to Bolton today in search of three valuable points

With a sell-out at the University of Bolton Stadium, Sunderland fans will be hoping their team do the business on the pitch and bring an important victory back to Wearside

Sunderland v Rotherham - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Jack Ross Says...

All our week from Tuesday really has been geared towards the weekend and winning that fixture and maintaining the good start that we’ve had to the season. We know if we win that game we put ourselves in an even healthier position.

We speak a lot as a group about our focus and our ambition and about what we want to do.

They’ve [Bolton] endured a difficult start not just because of the external circumstances, but because they’re in a difficult position in the league.

But I think we’re getting them at perhaps a more difficult time than some other clubs have done because they’ve got a little bit more stability and a lot of the players are now returning to match fitness.

It’s a challenging match for us, but they always are, every time we play an opponent home or away because of how they feel about playing us.

Our preparations have been thorough, but I think it’s a game that could suit us on Saturday and if we can piece together a lot of what’s been good about our play so far then we’ve got a good chance of winning the game.

I said after the Rotherham game that I do feel in the main we have looked more comfortable defensively than we did last season. There has to be consistency to your work. We’ve got good players here and I think the reward will come. If we keep believing in what we do and we keep working at it, it will come.

So from what I’ve seen, I think we’ll start to get those rewards sooner rather than later.

Burnley v Sunderland - Carabao Cup Second Round
Jack Ross is anticipating reaping the rewards of Sunderland’s hard work.
Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Team News

Ross was tight-lipped about the health of his squad, confirming only that Duncan Watmore is still missing:

Duncan is still unavailable. Laurens De Bock and Joel Lynch should be available for the squad after this weekend.

The cup game will maybe be the first one for them to contend for. We’ve couple of concerns from Tuesday, but I’d rather not say who they are at the moment.

The fact Sunderland had a tough game just four days ago suggests Ross could be thinking of rotating a couple of players.

Luke O’Nien could revert to his regular right back slot following criticism of Conor McLaughlin’s role in Rotherham’s equaliser on Tuesday evening. That switch would allow the return of Chris Maguire in his favoured No.10 role.

Charlie Wyke, Will Grigg, Grant Leadbitter, Max Power and Tom Flanagan all featured on the bench during midweek and will be pushing to start today’s league game. However, chances are Chris Maguire could be the only change amongst the seven substitutes this afternoon, if everyone reports in and Ross’ concerns prove negligible.

Sunderland v AFC Wimbledon - Sky Bet League One
Chris Maguire could be in line for a return this afternoon
Photo by Steven Hadlow/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

View from the opposition

Former Sunderland players Daryl Murphy, Liam Bridcutt and Will Buckley will be well known to fans as we travel to the University of Bolton Stadium.

Liam Bridcutt has been handed the captaincy by new manager Keith Hill, despite only being at the club on loan until January. The former Sunderland midfielder has quickly become a central figure to Hill’s plans and the Wanderers gaffer will already be plotting an extension to the deal agreed with Nottingham Forest.

Against Oxford in midweek, Bridcutt looked the best player on the pitch in a solid defensive midfield display. Hill will look to Bridcutt to dictate play again today and keep Sunderland on the back foot.

Daryl Murphy is unlikely to feature as he has been carrying an injury since his switch from Nottingham Forest earlier in the season. That could allow Will Buckley to start up-front, as part of a three pronged attack, as Hill looks to get the best out of the 29-year-old:

He has got to regain his confidence. There is a smart player, an intelligent player in there.

He is quick, as pace in and out of possession, he’s clever, and he’s got energy to burn.

We want him to embrace the way he played for us when he first started out in the professional game and especially the way he played at Brighton. I think Liam Bridcutt being here is a good reminder to Will of how brilliant he was.

We are just trying to re-establish him now because he’s 29, his game isn’t over. We know him but we are trying to reinvent him.

We want him to express himself, show that personality to the supporters so they can see the real Will Buckley.

A couple of other key figures today will be Bolton’s wide men, Dennis Politic and Thibauld Verlinden. The young pair got fans on the edge of their seat in Tuesday night’s stalemate with Oxford United with their trickery on the ball and, in front of their home fans, will be hoping to make an impact against one of League One’s promotion hopefuls.

Bolton Wanderers v Oxford United - Sky Bet League One
Liam Bridcutt is currently the captain of Bolton Wanderers
Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport/ via Getty Images

Match stats

Venue: University of Bolton Stadium, Horwich
Kick-off: 3pm
Referee: Oliver Yates
Last season position: 23rd (Championship)

Last 5 results:

SAFC

(L1) Rotherham United (H) 1-1
(L1) Accrington Stanley (A) 3-1
(L1) Peterborough United (A) 0-3
(LC) Burnley (A) 3-1
(L1) AFC Wimbledon (H) 3-1

BWFC

(L1) Oxford United (H) 0-0
(L1) Rotherham United (A) 1-6
(LT) Bradford City (H) 1-1 (3-4 on penalties)
(L1) Gillingham (A) 0-5
(L1) Ipswich Town (H) 0-5

The Lads at University of Bolton Stadium

20 Feb 2018 (CH) Bolton Wanderers 1-0 Sunderland
05 Jan 2013 (FAC) Bolton Wanderers 2-2 Sunderland (Wickham, Gardner)
22 Oct 2011 (PL) Bolton Wanderers 0-2 Sunderland (Sessegnon, Bendtner)
07 May 2011 (PL) Bolton Wanderers 1-2 Sunderland (Zenden, Muntari)
15 Aug 2009 (PL) Bolton Wanderers 0-1 Sunderland (Bent)

Top goalscorers (in all competitions)

2 - Dennis Politic
1 - Ronan Darcy
1 - Thibaud Verlinden

Rotherham United v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images

Last Time We Met

Among the myriad of calamitous performances dished up by Sunderland in the 2017/18 campaign, the 1-0 defeat to relegation rivals Bolton was particularly pathetic.

Wanderers, who themselves were enduring a depressing season, barely had to break sweat before Zach Clough directed a free-kick past a flapping Lee Camp.

It probably was a handball and it probably was a Sunderland throw before the free-kick, but in the grand scheme of things, nothing really mattered that season.

Bolton Wanderers v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images