Mark Carrick says...
It’s taken a remarkable run of form to get us into the play-offs. I honestly believed that the likes of Wycombe and Sheffield Wednesday had the fixtures to get in, so it was between us and Plymouth.
A month ago, I thought Plymouth had enough in the tank to finish in the top-six, and so huge credit goes to Alex Neil and his team for getting us here.
Now we have secured our place in the top-six, we are in with a chance of play-off success and we simply have to make it count. In my opinion, and it might be easier said than done, the best way to do that is to try and blow Sheffield Wednesday out of the water in front of a bumper Stadium of Light crowd, and to do our very best to make the second leg a formality.
We must remember we did just that a short while ago when we walloped The Owls 5-0.
Alex Neil is definitely one for playing against opponents' weaknesses and ensuring we counteract their strengths. If he watches the 5-0 battering again, he will surely see things that make him confident.
Throw in the fact that Neil has tightened up our defence, and I think the main area he will focus on tactically is nullifying Barry Bannan, assuming he is fit. Stop their creative outlet and they are there for the taking - as we have already proved once this season.
Joseph Tulip says...
My preference has always been for the away leg first in these situations, but in this particular case, home leg first could work to our advantage. I don’t see a repeat of December’s 5-0 thumping of Wednesday but I do see Friday’s home leg as an opportunity to gain an advantage in the tie.
The potential loss of Nathan Broadhead would be a huge blow, but there is no reason why we can’t still set up with enough of an attacking threat to score a couple of goals while relying on our tighter defence to try and keep a clean sheet.
We’re settled generally in a 3-5-2 currently and I wouldn’t venture away from that, with confidence in Bailey Wright and Danny Batth, hopefully to be joined by Callum Doyle in the back line.
We don’t need to be overly pragmatic to the extent that we probably were against both Plymouth and Rotherham, where we sacrificed creativity and width for midfield solidarity. Lynden Gooch’s recent form means he is a must, for me, in the right wing back role, with Patrick Roberts playing the same role on the opposite flank.
The potential loss of Nathan Broadhead would be huge, but there’s no reason why Alex Pritchard can’t make a big impact in the hole behind Ross Stewart (ok, making it a 3-4-1-1), as he did during Broadhead’s spell on the sidelines earlier this year.
In midfield, we need just as much creativity as we do steel if we’re to score a couple of goals, so I see a big role for Elliot Embleton in a deeper role once again, with Corry Evans there to win physical battles and shield the back line.
Instead of being overly cautious, I hope we trust in our defence and let our attacking players do their thing, especially in front of a big home crowd who really do have a massive role to play in making a success of this home leg, by roaring us hopefully to victory, ideally by two goals.
If we go pragmatic, and it becomes a cagey game, I could see Wednesday using that to their advantage and try to turn the crowd. Hopefully, that won’t be the case and we can go to Hillsborough with a well-earned lead in the tie.
Gary Engel says...
Okay, so our next match is against the side who, some would argue, under Lee Johnson we put in our best performance during his tenure back in December. Personally, I find it difficult to read much into that result or our pummelling at Hillsborough in November. Alex Neil’s Sunderland operate on a different level, it is no longer a case of hammer or be hammered which sums up our previous two fixtures against Wednesday this season.
How do I think Sunderland will line up in this one? Neil is quite astute; he won’t take any unnecessary risks when we have two games to face. We do need to take an advantage into the away tie but won’t compromise his defensive priorities either.
The Rotherham match is a reasonable indicator how we may line up. Neil will probably go with a more defensive minded midfield, but his thinking could also be somewhat altered due to the situation with Broadhead if he is unable to start at the Stadium. Even at home, I’d see a 3-5-1 formation being deployed with Prichard and Roberts given licence to pull the strings creatively and play further forward.
Neil has masterminded some unexpected results already. So, against a strong Sheff Wed side, on a strong run of form, we are going to need to produce some of our best performances under Neil. We have got into a very good habit of producing late goals, so with that never say die attitude this could be a long, nervy affair.
Supporting Sunderland, especially though the play-offs, is not for the faint of heart. I’d feel more confident heading into the next two fixtures knowing Broadhead is fit to start. But as this is a chess match, while Neil may not have got every line-up, or his tactics correct every time, no managers do, he does seem to know when to keep the match tight or when to pull out the stops and go for it.
He reminds me of Sam Allardyce in that respect, and I’d say few managers would get us over the line to Wembley, but I feel Alex Neil will.
Malc Dugdale says...
My neck firmly on the line… I think we have more than enough to win this two-leg semi-final sequence, but we need to turn up and play as we did in the 5-0 win, rather than the earlier tie.
Even without Nathan Broadhead up front, on reviewing the goal that Wednesday let in against Pompey on Saturday and other chances that existed in the game, I think they are vulnerable to well-worked football, and they do not like being attacked from wide areas. We can offer both of those things, and on a good day, we can play that way to a level that very few can stay with.
The goals that Wednesday scored at the weekend were very well executed, but more than one of them were poorly defended by Pompey, and I think our defence would have done better on most occasions. No doubt the coach and his team will be reviewing the recent games, and will be planning how they can hold the fort while at least scoring a couple of goals in the first tie, to make it as hard as possible for The Owls to do better at their place the following week.
My expectation is that Alex Neil will go for it in the first-leg, and despite the loss of young Nathan for at least one leg, we have to take the sequence of two games by the scruff of the neck and take this pair of games to Wednesday on the front foot.
Three games to go, let’s make this first one a totally one sided affair that we can defend in Yorkshire, and let’s get to Wembley for the third time in four seasons, so, third time lucky maybe.