Sunderland face Hull on Saturday at the Stadium of Light, with the match being selected for broadcasting by Sky at 7.45. The original fixture, which was originally meant to take place on Boxing Day, was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Sunderland squad.
The Tigers currently sit second on the League One table and will be looking to retain their automatic promotion place, whilst the Black Cats will be looking to find the consistency that will push them back into the playoff positions.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Hull fan, Tigers Blah Blah Blah podcast host and VAVEL EFL Deputy Editor Luke Flanagan, to discuss how Grant McCann’s side have faired so far this season, as well as how Sunderland’s former captain George Honeyman is performing.
MC: After a highly impressive start to the League One season, Hull have only won one of their last five league games but still sit second in the table, what are the main factors behind that dip in form?
LF: A few things. In the main, we played teams who I think had worked us out. In particular Shrewsbury knew that we’d play 4-3-3 so they went 5-4-1 and defended so deep we couldn’t break it down.
Portsmouth were very negative as well and that was an awful game. Should have been 0-0 but we scored two own goals - they won 2-0 having no shots on target! We also missed Honeyman for three of those defeats. He is integral to all that we do going forward and we missed his influence massively. We looked flat without him.
MC: Many pundits were shocked to see Hull stick with Grant McCann after your collapse in the Championship last year which led to relegation, has the club’s start to this season shown that decision was correct?
LF: On the whole I think yes. He knows this division having done well with Doncaster and I actually think it was that the owners didn’t want to spend money to sack him - they knew McCann wouldn’t walk.
He annoyed a lot of fans obviously but I think he’s doing his best to turn some round. The “McCann out” clan are always out on twitter after a defeat obviously, but I think he’s got a good chance of taking us up.
MC: We cannot discuss Sunderland and Hull without mentioning George Honeyman - how has he performed this season back playing in League One?
LF: Absolutely unbelievable. He is so important to us - free kicks and set pieces are quality for this level and his energy on the pitch is amazing to watch. He leads by example and I can’t believe some Sunderland fans didn’t take to him. He’s one of the players of the season so far for me.
MC: 19-year-old winger Keane Lewis-Potter looks a real prospect this season, do Hull have a special player on their hands who can help fire the club back to the Championship?
LF: Oh yes - only if the owners stop playing about, though. Championship teams will be looking at him and there’s problems agreeing a new deal. The fans are most upset by this and it needs to be sorted ASAP. Nothing better than a home town boy banging in the goals for his club - but McCann is benching him at the moment. That needs to change.
MC: The January transfer window is now open, but League One are heavily restricted due to EFL wage cap rules, are there any Hull players you are concerned about losing this month?
LF: All of them. After losing our two playmakers (Bowen & Grosicki) last year I won’t rule anything out. We’ve already lost Adelakun, but he was a loan and has been recalled. We could do with a new striker and I’d take a swap for Tom Eaves as it just doesn’t look like it’s going to work for him at Hull City.
MC: Winger Hakeeb Adelakun was recently recalled by Bristol City after spending the first half of this season with Hull, he has been linked with Sunderland through his links to Lee Johnson - what did you think of him during his spell?
LF: He’s inconsistent. Definitely a player in there, and some real quality touches - a couple of good goals - but he can go missing big time. KLP is a far better player, as is Wilks - but he’s a good option to have.
MC: This match was rearranged last minute following cancellations to other fixtures due to COVID-19, do you think quick fixture changes like this to prevent congestion should become a norm this season?
LF: Absolutely. More should be done to rearrange matches - otherwise there will be too many injuries when we’re trying to play three games in a week. This is the first time I’ve been impressed by a decision that the EFL has made!
MC: Who are the eleven Hull players you believe McCann will select against Sunderland, plus what style of play can Johnson’s men expect to face?
LF: 4-3-3. Always! Lots of passing and overlapping full backs getting crosses in the box. Also some shithousing if we go one up - lots of blatant time wasting.
Long (GK); Emmanuel, Jones, Greaves, Fleming; Smallwood, Docherty, Honeyesta; Wilks, Eaves, Scott. I don’t think he’ll play KLP and we had some positive tests of other players so they might not be back in time.
MC: The two clubs were only separated by penalties in the Carabao Cup earlier this season, what is your honest prediction of the final score this time around?
LF: Score draw. I think we’ll come alive once KLP comes on but Lee Johnson is a good manager to have at this level so it should be interesting!