After beating promotion rivals Ipswich 1-0 on Saturday, Sunderland face Rochdale at the Stadium of Light tonight. Phil Parkinson’s men sit 6th in the League One table, five points away from the automatic promotion places. A win could take the lads up to 5th, although that is dependent on results elsewhere.
On the other hand, Brian Barry-Murphy looks set to guide Rochdale to safety, the club are currently placed in 18th, 11 points above Tranmere in the relegation positions. Sunderland beat Rochdale 2-1 earlier in the season under Jack Ross, courtesy of goals from Charlie Wyke and Aiden McGeady.
Ahead of the match I spoke to Rochdale fan #SpanishDale - we discussed how his team are progressing under Brian Barry-Murphy, as well as what Phil Parkinson’s team can expect to face during the match.
MC: Former Republic of Ireland international Paul McShane was woeful on Wearside and is not remembered fondly by Sunderland fans - how has he performed for Rochdale since signing from Reading in the summer?
SD: I think he is doing a good job when he is playing, every Rochdale player is important to the team when they are on the pitch given the predicament we are in.
MC: The club received £1m from Wolves during the January transfer window for Luke Matheson, what will that money do for the club and how do you think he can go in football?
SD: I feel incredibly proud that a player from Rochdale’s academy has developed so well and is going to play with a Premier League team in Wolves next year. We are lucky because he has re-joined the team on loan until the end of the season.
MC: Rochdale manager Brian Barry-Murphy is known for his attractive style of football which involves passing out from the back and controlling possession - has this style improved the team’s performances or is it more dangerous than effective?
SD: The team is playing very well sometimes and Barry-Murphy is showing to the world that a team from League One can play an attractive style of football. However, sometimes our lack of goals let the team down, that will be the key for us to avoid relegation.
MC: Striker Ian Henderson has scored double figures during the last seven seasons for Rochdale, scoring 20 league goals last season, are you amazed a club in a superior league has never taken a gamble on him?
SD: I have read some rumours about him perhaps moving elsewhere, however I would guess that he is happy at Rochdale and he is looking for a balance between playing football and his family life.
MC: Speaking of experienced strikers, a player well known to Phil Parkinson is Rochdale’s 40-year-old Aaron Wilbraham - how is he still playing at such a high level at his age?
SD: At home in Albacete (Spain), we have a player in my basketball team who is the same age - I do not think age matters, I think a players passion for the game and drive to help the team is more important.
MC: Looking at Rochdale’s team, many important first-team players such as: Callum Camps, Aaron Morley and Luke Matheson all came through the academy. How important do you think it is for clubs who possess a lower budget to utilise their youth setup?
SD: Like I said previously, it makes me proud to see the club promoting youth players to the first-team. Some players will naturally move to better teams at a superior level, but I think it is something special when you see them go on to achieve great things in football.
MC: Rochdale have been playing in League One for six seasons now and look likely to avoid relegation this season - is the club’s fanbase satisfied with remaining in the league each season or is their ambition to go one step further?
SD: Throughout the majority of Rochdale’s history we have played League Two football. Because of that, playing in League One has been a gift for the people of Rochdale. One season we nearly finished in the playoff positions, but I would be very satisfied to remain in this league every year.
MC: Who do you expect Brian Barry-Murphy to select and what can Sunderland expect to face from Rochdale?
SD: I think it will be a very close game at the Stadium of Light, but I do think we will make some changes as we have an important match with Tranmere on Saturday.
4-4-2: Sanchez (GK), Matheson, McShane, O’Connell, Norrington-Davies, Lund, Ryan, Morley, Rathbone, Done, Henderson.
MC: Sunderland beat Rochdale 2-1 earlier in the season, what do you think the score will be this time around at the Stadium of Light?
SD: I think it will be a very difficult game for Rochdale playing away at the Stadium of Light, we will be lucky to come away with a point.