After beating Doncaster Rovers 2-1 in our last game of 2019, Phil Parkinson’s Sunderland begin the new year away against Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town.
Both clubs are in touching distance of the League One play-off positions as Fleetwood sit 8th, whilst Sunderland are placed well below expectations in 13th place. The division is shaping up to be very tight with many teams suffering from highly inconsistent runs of form.
Sunderland will be looking to beat Fleetwood for the first time after failing on two occasions last season. The two sides drew 1-1 at the Stadium of Light last season, in the return fixture Ashley Eastham’s 95th minute header sealed a landmark 2-1 victory for Joey Barton’s men.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Fleetwood fan and YouTuber Knappers to discuss how his team have performed so far this season, as well as what we can expect to see from Barton’s men during the match.
MC: At the start of the last decade Fleetwood were competing in the Conference North, whilst Sunderland were playing Premier League football. Now facing one another at the start of 2020, what are the main reasons behind the club transitioning from a non-league team to an established and competitive League One club?
K: The owner has pumped a lot of money into the football club, investing very effectively. He bought well and when we got promotion to the Football League he kept believing we could go one step further.
When we achieved promotion to League One we invested in a state of the art training ground that cost around £8,000,000! It just shows what a football fan as a owner and someone who is passionate can do.
MC: Fleetwood manager Joey Barton is no stranger to Sunderland fans through his Newcastle ties - how satisfied are you with the team’s progression since he was appointed and how far do you think he can take the club?
K: Well we are eight points ahead of what we were this time last year, that for me is a huge improvement! We invested well in the summer bringing in Coutts, Morris, Andrew, Evans. They are big names in this league and have experience. We seem to be learning from mistakes, we just need to improve away from home then we are a real force.
MC: The Fisherman are currently just one point away from the play-off places and four points away from automatic promotion - how realistic do you think Fleetwood’s promotion hopes are this season?
K: Very alive still. We’ve been around them all year. We just need to get into a rhythm of winning matches and improving away from home. There are no mugs in the top half. The likes of Sunderland, Oxford, Coventry, Peterborough, Gillingham, Portsmouth will all be fighting out for the play offs. With other big clubs in there too. It’s going to be tough, but not impossible!
MC: Barton’s men have only lost once at home this season to Ipswich, why do you believe the team is performing far better at Highbury compared to on the road?
K: We seem to be a bit timid away from home however four points from the two festive fixtures is such a positive result, I just hope it’s a start of things to come. In our most recent home game we really took the game to Bristol Rovers but drew 0-0. We should of won the game!
MC: The January transfer window was a rollercoaster journey for Sunderland last season with the Josh Maja/Will Grigg fiascos, are you expecting your Chairman Andy Pilley to invest in the squad and do you think the club can keep hold of their star players such as Paddy Madden?
K: Yes I do. I believe we need to add some numbers. Unfortunately Ashley Hunter will be departing on loan, who for me should be in the first team fold. We need a replacement for him and Rossiter who ran our midfield who is unfortunately injured. It is going to be a interesting month!
MC: Fleetwood striker Ched Evans was strongly linked with signing for Sunderland last season - how has he performed since making a permanent move from Sheffield United in the summer?
K: Ched has done very well, he hasn’t scored as many as last year just yet but if you watch him you can see how good he is! How he can bring the ball down, how he can create an opportunity out of nothing. He is a top player.
MC: Sunderland right-back Conor McLaughlin is very well known to Fleetwood fans having enjoyed a successful five year tenure with the club - are you surprised to see he has performed so poorly in League One this season?
K: Personally I would like to see Connor back at the club in January. Connor needs confidence, given time he will definitely improve. Sunderland are a massive club, with massive expectations. Will always be hard for a player to go in to a club of that statue!
MC: On loan Burnley defender Jimmy Dunne enjoyed a largely underwhelming spell at Sunderland last season, how has he faired so far this season on loan at Fleetwood?
K: Unfortunately things didn’t work out for Jimmy here. He seemed to be frozen out over a incident at Blackpool away. He has been sent back to Burnley U23s. He wasn’t that bad when he played but he was very clumsy and gave away several penalties away through poor defending.
MC: Who are the eleven Fleetwood players you expect Joey Barton to select against Sunderland and what style of play can Phil Parkinson expect to come up against?
K: I expect to see Cairns in net after coming back in with a clean sheet, a back four of Andrew on the left, Harry Souttar and Ash Eastham partnering up hopefully in the centre and Lewie Coyle on that right hand side. Dempsey and Coutts in the Central midfield role, with Burns and Morris out wide with Evans and Madden up front.
MC: Lastly, Sunderland are yet to beat Fleetwood under Joey Barton - what do you think the final score will be at full time on New Year’s Day?
K: 2-1 Fleetwood.
I would like to wish Sunderland the very best for 2020. I hope you get back to where you belong ASAP, the club has a great set of fans and deserves to be playing in the Premier League.
Fleetwood fan Knappers will be posting a match day vlog on his YouTube channel following the match - check out his channel for regular Fleetwood Town content.