Matthew Crichton: Sheffield Wednesday finished 4th in League One, five points behind the automatic spots, are you delighted to be in the playoffs given that you spent two thirds of the season outside the top six?
James Mappin: Yes. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to still be in with a chance of promotions even if it has to be via the playoffs. There’s no denying though that the main aim this season was automatic promotion and we’ve just fallen short of that.
Consistency has been our downfall this season and silly dropped points down to individual errors. It’s all shoulda, woulda, coulda but on the whole we can still get promotion and that’s the main aim.
MC: You spoke earlier in the season about fan uncertainty around Darren Moore, has that uncertainty disappeared given your positive end to the season?
JM: It’s certainly quietened them down but believe it or not certain fans still don’t think he’s the man for the job.
Personally I think he’s done a fantastic job of getting us to be where we are. Not just in terms of league position but the morale around the players as well as amongst the fans. Fans, and I include me in that, can’t wait for the next game as soon as the previous game has finished.
And to bring the players in that he has done without a transfer budget has been nothing short of remarkable. He’s made some great signings.
It’s been a brilliant end to the season. Only one defeat in our last eleven matches, scoring goals for fun and playing some decent football which you have to give credit to Darren Moore for.
MC: Similarly to Sunderland, Wednesday have been excellent at home, but inconsistent on their travels, given that fact do you think the pressure is on Sunderland tonight ahead of a tough trip to Hillsborough?
JM: 100%. We just need to make sure that we don’t lose at the Stadium of Light. The fact that we’re so good at home will give us confidence that we can beat you at Hillsborough. A draw wouldn’t be the end of the world and I’d still back us to overturn a one-goal deficit. Anything more than that could prove a tall-order.
It’s up to you to bring the game to take an advantage into that second leg. Only two games have beaten us at home this season and we don’t want you guys to be the third.
MC: Barry Bannan has been phenomenal for Moore’s side this season, scoring nine & assisting 12, how big of a blow would it be if he was to miss out?
JM: A huge blow. I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t. He’s been instrumental for us this season and his numbers speak for themselves. 9 goals and 12 assists for the season is an excellent return for the ‘Wee Scottish Man’ and he also finished the season with the 2nd highest number of key passes in the league.
To miss someone with that amount of quality will obviously be a big blow but I’d like to think we’re more than just a one man team.
MC: Lee Gregory has scored 16 League One goals for Wednesday this season, what makes him so effective at this level?
JM: His hold up play is second to none and his ability to fend off defenders, gain half a yard and get his shot off is the reason why he’s scored the number of goals he has so far this season.
He reads the game so well which can sometimes result in an extra half a yard and he just knows where the goal is. I’d go as far as saying he’s our signing of the season.
MC: Aside from the above-mentioned players, which Wednesday players have impressed you most during your uplift in form?
JM: George Byers and Massimo Luongo have both come back into the side following injury and have made those positions their own.
Mass plays in that holding midfielder role which allows Bannan to get further up the pitch. Not only that but he breaks up attacks so well. You could argue that he picks up too many yellow cards but that’s just collateral when you consistently do the job that he does.
The other player is George Byers who make up ‘The Midfield Three’. Out of favour at the start of the season but injuries meant that he was given his chance and he took it with both arms.
George does all of the dirty work and the jobs that footballers hate. Tackles. Interceptions. But he also adds goals to his game which is an added bonus.
MC: Aiden McGeady could make his long-awaited return from injury tonight, are you concerned that one of your former players may come back to bite you?
JM: Yes and no. Yes because all former players seem to have their day against us. Most recently George Hirst netted against us last weekend, a player who came through the youth ranks at Hillsborough.
And no because I feel we have enough quality in the likes of Jack Hunt in the wing back role and Storey, Hutch at centre back to nullify the thread of McGeady.
MC: Given that Sunderland thrashed Moore’s side 5-0 back in December, how do you think he will approach the match tactically?
JM: We’re a different beast to the one that lost 5-0. In that game we were heavily impacted by Covid. Although not officially confirmed it was clear that some of those players that played were still recovering or feeling the side effects and the lack of games in the weeks before clearly took their toll.
As I eluded to, we just can’t give us too much work to do going into the second leg.
That being said, I don’t want us to go in with the mentality of trying not to lose as that usually ends in tears. I want to see us take it to yourselves. We don’t need a gung-ho mentality but I just want to see us play the football that’s got us to this position in the league rather than changing it up for this game.
MC: Which eleven players do you think Moore will select to start the match?
JM: 3-5-3: Bailey Peacock-Farrell (GK), Storey. Dean. Hutchinson. Hunt. Byers. Luongo. Bannan. Johnson. Gregory. Berahino.
One change. Dean in for Palmer. Palmer did no wrong at the weekend and had one of his best performances of the season but we need to sure things up at the back and Dean can do that.
We lose an attacking threat going forward that you get with Liam Palmer but as I eluded to earlier, we just need to come out of the first leg having not gone behind.
MC: Wednesday have only lost one of their last five matches against Sunderland, what is your prediction for the final score?
JM: 1-1 at the Stadium of Light.
2-0 at Hillsborough.
We go through 3-1 on aggregate.