Sunderland face Plymouth Argyle tonight for the first time since Ryan Lowe’s side were promoted from League Two last season. The Black Cats currently sit eighth in League One, three points from the playoffs, whereas The Pilgrims are further down in 15th, six points above the relegation places.
The two sides last met when both teams competed in League One during the 2018/19 season. Sunderland won 2-0 on both occasions under Jack Ross, as Aiden McGeady scoring a brace in the away tie, with Lee Cattermole and George Honeyman converting in the home game.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Plymouth fan Ian De-Lar of Pasoti, to discuss how Lowe’s side have faired since promotion from League Two, as well as how Sunderland’s backline can defend against League One’s joint top scorer, Luke Jephcott.
MC: Plymouth striker Luke Jephcott is League One’s joint top scorer so far this season with 13 goals. Where has the 20-year-old’s brilliant form come from and are you scared of losing him this month?
ID: It’s been an amazing year for the young striker, just over a year ago he was playing on loan at local non-league side Truro City before he was surprisingly recalled and thrust into the first team. Thirteen months later he’s scored 22 goals!
He’s been linked with a move to a host of Championship clubs during this January transfer window. We obviously want to keep him and don’t have to sell for financial reasons – maybe his career would be better served if he stayed at Argyle for at least another season or two.
MC: Ryan Lowe is always linked with managerial vacancies on the back of winning League Two two years running with Bury and Plymouth. Does he have a promising career ahead of him in management?
ID: It’s a running joke among Argyle fans that whenever a Championship or League One club lose their manager Ryan Lowe will immediately be listed by the betting companies as the clear favourite to get the job, and yet he’s still with us!
Lowe and his coaching staff, in tandem with the Director of Football and owner Simon Hallett, have set up a long-term project at Home Park from the academy through to the first team so I’d expect Lowe to stay at Argyle for a while yet as he learns his trade, although the lure of managing a northern club will always be there.
MC: The Pilgrims currently sit 15th in League One, six points above the relegation zone. Is the aim simply to avoid relegation after your promotion from League Two last season?
ID: In a poll at the start of the season nearly 50% of Argyle fans stated they would be happy with finishing in mid-table obscurity and we are on course to achieve that. We did have a very good start to the season, which falsely raised hopes, but the aim for everyone is to get through this Covid threatened season and be in League One for next season.
MC: Excluding Jephcott, who are the other Plymouth players Sunderland will need to be wary of?
ID: Danny Mayor is the obvious choice (although he did pick up an injury in our game against Crewe on Saturday), he gets the team up the pitch with his jinking runs. Conor Grant at left wing-back is another who could cause Sunderland some problems, especially with his set-piece delivery.
MC: Plymouth have scored more league goals than Sunderland this season, but have conceded double. Is it fair to say all of your games are open and end to end?
ID: The philosophy of Ryan Lowe is to play an attacking brand of football which worked so well in League Two for Bury and Argyle. However, in a higher league our defensive flaws are being exposed, and many fans believe our defence should now be the focus.
MC: Calum McFadzean joined Sunderland from Plymouth. Were you surprised to see him achieve a better move after being released from yourselves?
ID: McFadzean was actually offered a new contract at Argyle, he worked so well on the left side of the team with Danny Mayor but he wanted to return to a northern-based team to be close to his family.
He had to wait for a long time to find a club and it looked to be a mistake by refusing Argyle’s contract offer, but he’s done well to sign for a big club like Sunderland. The move came as a surprise to most Argyle fans.
MC: Plymouth have failed to win a League One away fixture so far this season. Why are the team so effective at Home Park but dreadful on their travels?
ID: It’s a mystery. We are top of the form table for winning home games but bottom for winning away games with no league wins on the road this season. Similarly we are top of the table for first half ‘results’ but near the bottom for second half ‘results’. The away form and second half collapse is something Lowe is yet to get to grips with.
We do have fantastic away support; it was the largest in League Two last season, so no away fans this season could be having an effect on the team.
MC: Who are the eleven Plymouth players you expect Lowe to select and what style of play can Johnson’s men expect to come up against?
ID: Midfielder Panutche Camara is suspended so Grant will probably play in his position, we always line-up as 3-5-2 with attacking wing-backs. Barring any surprises the team is likely to be: Cooper, Aimson, Opoku, Watts, Fornah, Edwards, Mayor (if fit), Grant, Lewis, Jephcott, Hardie. Five of these are loan players.
MC: Sunderland won both fixtures when the two sides last competed in League One. What is your prediction of the final score?
ID: It will be a very tough game and I’d be happy with a point, although surely our winless run has to end at some point.