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Match Preview: It could kickstart our season - will Sunderland’s focus return to on-pitch matters?

14 games. 14 games to save our season. There can be no more excuses - things have to change, and they have to change today. I still believe we can do it - let’s hope that the players do too!

SAFC.com

Let’s be honest - after the week we’ve had, we could all probably use the distraction of a Sunderland home win right about now.

It’s been that long since we last tasted victory - almost a month, in fact - that the arguments about off-field issues combined with the frustration that comes with not winning has really soured the collective mood of the fanbase, at a time when we could really do with our season getting back on track.

The discussion around ownership issues won’t go away any time soon, but for the vast majority of match-going fans who just want to turn up at the ground and see the team play with commitment and passion, three points and a nice performance this afternoon wouldn’t go amiss.

That is, however, easier said than done.

MK Dons are a formidable outfit and sit one place ahead of us, two points in front having played the same amount of games. If our faint hopes of automatic promotion are to remain, then we absolutely have to win today - and whilst I agree with Alex Neil when he said we must take things one game at a time, it’s pretty clear that we’ll have to win practically every game between now and the end of the season if we are going to finish inside the top two.

Milton Keynes Dons v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by John Cripps/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Liam Manning’s first game in charge of The Dons was at Stadium:MK earlier this season, and whilst Sunderland ran out 2-1 winners on that occasion, our opponents have gone from strength to strength and now look a shoo-in for a top-six finish, and run at the play-offs.

Summer signing Scott Twine has been a revelation, and with 13 goals and 9 assists from midfield so far this season, he’s widely thought of by EFL pundits as the best player in the division - and given his propensity to shoot at goal from range, with Storm Eunice behind him he’s going to be a real threat to the Sunderland goal.

Manning’s side like to knock the ball around, and having received extensive treatment on our mudpatch pitch, it’s hoped that the surface will be a lot better for both teams than it has been for quite some time.

Regardless of the threat that our opponents pose, Sunderland simply have to be better.

Alex Neil has now had a full week with his new squad on the training pitch at the Academy of Light, and that coupled with the return to fitness of a handful of players means that he’s got a decent squad to select from.

Jermain Defoe and Patrick Roberts should be much sharper and pushing for a start, whilst Danny Batth is over the knock that kept him out last weekend and could potentially partner up with Callum Doyle and Bailey Wright in a back three.

Thorben Hoffmann is also available for selection having missed the last two games.

Utility man Lynden Gooch looks set to miss out, whilst this game comes too soon for Luke O’Nien, Lee Burge, Aiden McGeady and Nathan Broadhead.

Doncaster Rovers v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One - Keepmoat Stadium Photo by Isaac Parkin/PA Images via Getty Images

Strangely, despite recent results, Neil has some tough decisions to make when it comes to picking his team - his attitude when speaking to the press indicates he’s no-nonsense and that you can expect him to trim away the fat if it’s going to help us to improve results, so you’d hope that will translate to him picking eleven players who are going to fight and scrap for every single ball in order to turn our season around, and back in the right direction.

We have 14 games left - 14 games to save our season.

There can be no more excuses. Things have to change, and they have to change today.

Weirdly, after everything that’s gone on recently, I still think that they can do it. I still believe that we can go on a mental run between now and the end of the season and achieve our goals - even if that means winning the play offs.

Let’s hope that the players can rediscover some of that belief today - winning, at all costs, has to be the aim if Alex Neil’s start to life as manager is to ever be known as a ‘revolution’.

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