Don’t hold your breath for early goals
As was the case in the reverse fixture just a few weeks ago, where the only goals came late in the game after tonight’s home side went down to ten men, goals in the latter stages of each half can be expected - especially from Sunderland.
Not only have Sunderland scored twice in the final quarter of an hour of two of their last three league games, Kyle Lafferty’s second at the weekend and Max Power’s late equaliser against Fleetwood, but tonight’s opponents also regular conceded in these later stages.
Of Bristol Rovers’ mediocre defensive record, 49 goals conceded is the seventh most in league one, they have conceded 23 goals in the final fifteen minutes of each half. On the face of it this points to a lack of fitness from The Gas, and for Sunderland to take advantage of this it will be important that they start the game well and control the early stages so that they can grind the home side down. Then, once this is achieved they can cash in as Rovers’ legs become tired.
Lafferty to offer a threat through the middle?
Whilst Bristol Rovers’ overall number of goals conceded gives them a mediocre defensive record, this is skewed by their ability to defend set pieces, and their defending from open play leaves a lot to be desired. Only Southend - unquestionably the worst team in the division - and Bolton, who started the season being beaten by five goals every week, have conceded more than Rovers’ 42 goals from open play and the area The Gas seem to be weakest is through the middle of the pitch, with 40% of goals conceded from open play coming through this area.
Before the weekend this would have been seen as a weakness Sunderland would struggle to exploit, since the obvious weak point of their attack was the offensive output of Charlie Wyke. However, after Lafferty’s brace on his first start against Gillingham and, to be fair, Wyke’s goal against Rovers’ a few weeks ago coming in a similar vein as Lafferty’s second at the weekend, it would not be surprising to see the Northern Irish international add to his Sunderland tally.
Furthermore, this weakness could add to the calls for Semenyo to start ahead of Gooch after an impressive cameo on Saturday afternoon. Semenyo is more of an out-and-out striker than Wearside’s favourite Californian and his running in behind could cause what is clearly a shaky defence even more problems, especially when paired with another goal threat in Kyle Lafferty.
All Stats from Instat Football; accurate 09/03/2020.