Sunderland host Shrewsbury Town at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, as Lee Johnson continues to try and achieve his first home league victory as manager. The Black Cats currently sit ninth on the League One table, whilst Salop are placed in 17th, just three points above the relegation zone.
Steve Cotterill’s side have been on a brilliant run since his appointment, going seven League One unbeaten. The match will be Shrewsbury’s first League One fixture of 2021. On the other hand, Sunderland have won just two of their last eleven league matches and are struggling to mount a serious promotion push.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Salop fan Glyn Price of the Blue and Amber Fanzine, to discuss the changes Cotterill has made, as well as what Sunderland fans can expect from the match.
First and foremost, everyone at Roker Report would like to wish former Sunderland assistant manager Steve Cotterill the best, as he is currently in hospital fighting against COVID-19.
MC: Shrewsbury looked nailed on for relegation before Steve Cotterill was appointed as manager, what has he changed to inspire the team to go on an eight-match unbeaten run?
GP: He’s been an absolute breath of fresh air. Fundamentally he managed to get the defence back to there best and implement some tactical changes that set us up to be hard to beat.
With a couple of early positive results the confidence went up and then we went on a run away from home nicking a goal and keeping it tight for the win. He’s also got players down on there luck and doing poorly playing much much better. Seems to have given the whole squad confidence, it has been an unreal turn around.
MC: The club are just three points above the relegation spots and 12 points behind the playoff positions with three games in hand on many teams - where do you think Cotterill can take the team?
GP: Honestly, before our COVID outbreak, three week break and serious illness for the manager we were starting to look up the table. The playoffs were in reach. But this last three weeks has been hellish for players, staff and fans of the club and if we stay up that will be perfectly acceptable.
Beyond that I would look at next season as something that could be very exciting. The early recruitment shows a lot of promise with genuine quality. The key thing is that everyone at the club gets over the virus and back to what they do best.
MC: Southampton beat Shrewsbury 2-0 on Tuesday, in the clubs first match in over 20 days - do you think Sunderland will have the fitness advantage as a result of your enforced COVID-19 break?
GP: Very possibly. We made five subs in the game as players were tired. A lot of the squad had COVID-19 and we have no ideas of the long terms impacts of it. That said we were already struggling with fitness late in matches thanks to Sam Ricketts terrible pre-season fitness work so the three week break might have actually helped some of the players.
We do have that extra motivation of missing the manager and to be fair the lads put in a good performance vs a talented Southampton team in the cup, which didn’t point to to many worries about hitting the ground running. That game was a free hit and will have helped get a few things out of the system.
MC: Charlie Daniels has recently left Shrewsbury and looks set to join Portsmouth, are you frustrated to lose a player of his caliber?
GP: He refused to play for us just before Tuesday’s game so he’s ruined towns fans generally positive thoughts they had on him. We set up all the set pieces for the Southampton game with him and he just said no.
But yes in terms of quality it’s a big miss and leaves us with one natural option at left-back in Scott Golbourne, who looked unfit and played poor against Southampton.
It was maybe always going to happen as he only signed a short-term deal with us to get fit. He did well his last ten games, but it is not great how his time at Shrewsbury concluded.
MC: The man who looks set to replace him is former Sunderland loanee Brendan Galloway, what do you think of that potential signing?
GP: Is he???
The club announced on Twitter that we signed him. Then that tweet was deleted and it’s still not been announced by Friday lunch time! So we don’t know if it’s fallen though or he’s gone elsewhere. Must have been close as he had a squad number and everything.
I mean he looked like what we need but as it stands hard to get to excited about it as it looks like it’s not going to happen.
A very odd situation.
MC: Former Sunderland defender Donald Love appeared to be performing well for Shrewsbury last season, but he has not started a league game this season - what has happened to him?
GP: Who knows. He along with Sean Goss fell out of favour with Sam Ricketts over the summer and we never saw him other than a couple of short cup appearances. No one knows at all what’s gone on. He was never absolutely terrible for us, and for a while we needed a right back and he still could not get a look in.
All very strange and I’m fairly certain he will be off sooner rather than later. Bit of a shame as he was a hard worker when he played. He’s not having the best luck is he!
MC: Shrewsbury have fielded three different goalkeepers in League One this season, including former Sunderland target Matija Sarkic - is that an area of weak spot for Salop?
GP: Not anymore, Sarkic is an unchallenged number one now for the last few months and is quality for League One. At start of season we had a goalkeeper injury crisis, that’s why we have played three. But under Sam Ricketts and Steve Cotterill Sarkic has always been first choice when fit.
MC: Who are the eleven players you believe will be selected to face Sunderland?
GP: GK - Sarkic, LWB - Golbourne, CB - Pierre, Ebanks Landell, Pennington, RWB - Williams, CM - Norburn and Vela, ACM - Chapman, ST - Clarke and Udoh. (5-2-1-2/3-4-1-2)
MC: Shrewsbury beat Sunderland 1-0 when the two sides last met, what is your honest prediction of the score this time around?
GP: With all the issues set out above, manager still in hospital, out of form or position wing backs and unknown COVID-19 effects I can see it being tough, but you also have to factor in that Sunderland’s home form is patchy. Both teams don’t score many or let many in, so I can see a tight game that will finish as a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.