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Sunderland v Accrington Stanley - Sky Bet League One

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Fleetwood are a test - it’s time for Sunderland to dig in

It’s been tough playing at the Highbury Stadium over the last few seasons, but things are different for Sunderland this year. It’s a record we must put right, argues Jack Shields. 

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Well things are going very nicely, aren’t they?

Top of the table, playing attractive football, a good transfer window behind us, and everyone looking forward to games.

After a year and a half away from the matches, nobody will take being in the ground to watch live football for granted again I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s been desperate for the weekends to come along recently.

It feels like it’s been a while since we were away from home with the Sheffield Wednesday game being postponed, but this weekend we travel to Fleetwood Town.

We’ve struggled here in recent years. Whether it was the 2-1 defeat under Jack Ross or the 1-1 draws under Parkinson, it’s one of a few grounds we are yet to win at since our spell down at this level. Why is this? Perhaps our focus has been too much on pantomime villain Joey Barton in recent years? Perhaps it’s the tight, close pitch? It’s a record we must put right.

Sunderland v Fleetwood Town - Sky Bet League One Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I really feel if we are to make the difference from campaigns in recent years - this is a game we have to be winning. I’m not saying it’s a must-win - as if our season is over if we don’t. But for us to be in the automatic promotion mix at the end of the season we simply cannot afford to drop points regularly like in recent seasons.

We have seen in previous seasons - particularly under Jack Ross, that draws can be a killer in a team’s season. You can argue that away from home they are a respectable result - but in an in-form team like ours, playing a team in the bottom half, it would be disappointing.

I’m also a massive believer in momentum. If a team starts to win regularly, it becomes a habit. Suddenly, the confidence will grow and we will find ways to win games. The games will come thick and fast between now and the next few months and a team in form can make massive progress.

Fleetwood will make it difficult for us. Teams know that if they squeeze us in tight, play defensively and counter, slow the game down at every opportunity and try to utilise set pieces to punish us. We have to stay disciplined and not allow ourselves to be drawn into needless fouls around the penalty area.

When we have the ball, we must play at a tempo. This season one positive feature of our play is the speed and intensity we have shown in possession. It’s much easier to defend against a team that plays a slow style and has no pace in their build-up play.

Sunderland v Accrington Stanley - Sky Bet League One Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In terms of the personnel - we have plenty of options available. Tom Flanagan’s suspension will mean Bailey Wright will probably start in defence. There are rumours that Leon Dajaku will feature, but I believe his fitness isn’t quite there yet and he will be a substitute. Luke O’Nien maybe rested with his ongoing shoulder issue, with Corry Evans in line to replace him.

There’s also Wigan Athletic away in the cup on Tuesday. While our main focus has to be on the league this season, the cup offers another opportunity to keep the winning run going and momentum up. It also gives the chance for fringe players to feature more regularly so the likes of Aiden O’Brien, Nathan Broadhead, and Frederik Alves should come into the fold.

Everything on the horizon looks rosy at the moment. Fleetwood will be a test - as it always is. I’m confident, however, that if we keep our focus and dig in - we can get another win here and keep the promotion boat sailing along...


If you’ve not caught our preview pod this week, tune in to hear Fleetwood chairman Andy Pilley’s thoughts ahead of the clash.

Also, don’t miss the rest of our Fleetwood v Sunderland pre-match coverage:

Match preview
Interview with Fleetwood fan Knappers
Predicted starting XI
Score predictions

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