Sunderland host Swindon Town at the Stadium of Light, as the Black Cats look to do the double over their League One rivals. The Robins have not beaten Sunderland since 1995, but they are unbeaten in their last three league fixtures, winning two.
Lee Johnson’s side currently sit fifth in the table, just six points behind Lincoln in second, whilst John Sheridan’s team are placed lower in 18th, three points above the relegation spots.
Ahead of the match, I spoke to Swindon fan Richard Pullen of the Loathed Strangers podcast, to discuss if he believes his team can beat the drop, as well as what Sunderland fans can expect from the match.
MC: Not long after your defeat to Sunderland earlier in the season, Richie Wellens left Swindon to take over at Salford in League Two - how did that decision go down with supporters?
RP: You try to not let your guard down when it comes to managers and players in the lower leagues as they tend to leave as soon as you get attached but, despite that, the majority were big Wellens fans and absolutely gutted when he left.
Wellens helped to reconnect many fans with the club, talked a very good game and, for the most part, this was reflected by the performances on the pitch. He got us out of League Two after three seasons and we did it playing good football with popular players.
MC: His replacement, John Sheridan, endured a very difficult start to his tenure in charge, but The Robins have moved out of the relegation zone - is he a popular figure with supporters?
RP: Not really, no. During the early stages of his Town tenure, he somehow guided us to our first win over Oxford United in about 4,000 years. It was a complete ‘hail Mary’ as he stuck a centre-back upfront and it just so happened to work (he tried it again vs. Crewe a few days later and it did not work)!
This win could/should have been the start of something good but since then (and up until a week ago) it just felt like we were spiralling. The only saving grace was that we didn’t drift out of the pack during the poor run.
MC: The club currently sit 18th, just three points above the relegation zone - are you confident Swindon can avoid relegation this season?
RP: A week ago I would have said ‘we are 100% down’ but football is a fickle sport, isn’t it? Now we’re unbeaten in three and there’s hope/optimism that there will be four teams worse than Swindon.
MC: There was a significant turnaround of players in January at Swindon - which areas of the team have strengthened and which have weakened?
RP: January was bloody awful! We lost our most creative player when Diallang Jaiyesimi joined Charlton and felt that we no longer needed on-loan player Matt Smith (Arsenal) who was arguably our best player during the season (he’s also joined Charlton).
Positive signings in Keiron Freeman and Mark Travers were brief romances as Freeman left for Swansea after three weeks and Travers was recalled by Bournemouth.
Christopher Missilou arrived from Northampton but is currently warming the bench despite a decent enough start to his Town career.
MC: The Swindon have not had any consistent goal scorers this season, but attacking midfielder Scott Twine has scored three since returning from a loan spell at Newport in League Two - is he a player who could turn your season around?
RP: Newport manager Michael Flynn did a great job developing Twine to be a more rounded attacking player. His return was much needed and now Sheridan has finally figured out that in order for Twine to make an impact then he has to play him!
Thinking about football at its most basic level, Twine could easily keep us up with his long-distance efforts alone.
MC: Swindon have drawn the joint least amount of League One matches this season with four - is it fair to suggest your matches are always open and end to end?
RP: The lack of draws is an odd one as many of the games we’ve played haven’t exactly been maulings. Perhaps that’s because clubs haven’t needed to step up and take it easy after scoring? I’ll take a draw on Tuesday!
MC: 19-year-old Archie Matthews made his debut in goal on Saturday, what is going on with your goalkeeping department that had led to an academy player having to step in?
RP: The goalkeeping situation has been less than ideal…
We started with Matej Kovar from Manchester United but, frankly, he wasn’t ready for League One football. Cost us points.
Town brought in ex-Middlesbrough goalkeeper, Joe Fryer, as cover and he conceded six goals in two games (including a massive blunder after 6 minutes against Accrington) and was never seen again.
Mark Travers came in for 8 games and was a massive improvement but he was then recalled by Bournemouth to cover Begovic.
So with 18 (eighteen) games of the season left Town were forced to dabble in the 7-day emergency loan market as we only had rookie goalkeeper Archie Matthews at the club.
Town brought in Jojo Wollacott from Bristol City and he performed well but suffered a knee injury so Matthews played against Northampton.
We have signed Connal Trueman on an emergency loan from Birmingham, so I would expect him to start.
MC: Who are the eleven Swindon you predict John Sheridan will select and what style of play can Lee Johnson’s men expect to encounter?
RP: I expect Swindon to try and play with a little bit of freedom as we won’t go down on the basis of losing at Sunderland. Town went for it against Lincoln which we felt was a bit of a ‘free pass’ and therefore I half expect the same with Sunderland on Tuesday.
GK. Connal Trueman, RB. Rob Hunt, LB. Jonathan Grounds, CB. Dion Conroy ©, CB. Tom Broadbent, CM. Jack Payne, CM. Matty Palmer, RW. Jordon Garrick, LW. Dom Thompson, FC. Scott Twine, ST. Brett Pitman.
MC: Sunderland beat Swindon 2-0 back in October, what is your honest prediction of the final score at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday?
RP: I predict Sunderland 3-1 Swindon Town, with the away side taking the lead.