I’ve always wanted to go to New York at Christmas time - it looks lovely.
Alright, it’s not quite as glamorous as the Big Apple, but the AESSEAL New York Stadium is the home of Rotherham United, and the next destination for Michael Beale’s Sunderland as they head off in search of a vitally important three points in the final game of 2023.
On paper this is game that any side in the top half should look at and see as a game you should be winning, but we’ve come to learn on various occasions over recent months that the Championship isn’t quite as simple as that and, for whatever reason, Sunderland are far more likely to beat a team in the top six than they are a team in the bottom six.
Rotherham hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for us in recent years. We were terrible down there last season when we lost 2-1, and the year before we got absolutely battered off them 5-1 in League One in what was one of the worst away days I’ve ever been on. The away end was full of absolute knackers off their nuts on gear and after the match it was booting off all over the place - it’s one of the only games I’ve ever walked out of early.
Just as I was there that day, I’ll also be there tonight — so if we lose, blame me.
The trip down yesterday was a nightmare (I have family in Doncaster so stopped over) — the A1 is full of roadworks so if you have any sense, don’t do what I did and forget to check the traffic ahead of leading as it’ll only take you an hour longer if you stay on the A1. Instead, take the M1 and come off on the M18 which takes you into Rotherham and around all the horrible roadworks and 40mph speed limits.
Anyways - the game. Yes. We’re playing Rotherham - who, like I say, are bottom of the table - and this presents us with a massive opportunity to gain another three points.
What will be most interesting from our perspective is whether Michael Beale is able to do what Tony Mowbray before him was unable to do and break down a team that will almost certainly look to sit deep and soak up the pressure, occasionally breaking and looking to take advantage of us on set pieces.
We’ve dropped a stupid amount of points this season against crap teams and it’s pretty much the difference between us being one of about 12 teams vying for a spot in the playoffs and the top four sides who are just that little bit better than the rest.
I watched Rotherham’s last outing against Middlesbrough through my fingers - they barely touched the ball and barely had any shots but managed to win, scoring a goal that was definitely an overhit cross and totally unintentional. Still, they all count and despite Boro hitting the bar and being robbed of a penalty, Leam Richardson picked up his first win since taking charge of The Millers a fortnight ago. It looked exactly like the type of game we’d lose.
That was their first win since October and will have given Rotherham’s players the belief that they can go on a little run of winning games, so I’m not sure whether this is a good time to play them or not. Bottom they may be, but they have that new manager bounce and I actually really rate Leam Richardson as a coach. He did a cracking job with Wigan and I’m surprised he’s taken this long to get back into management.
What will Sunderland do? It’s hard to predict given our own Head Coach has only been in the dugout a matter of weeks too. Michael Beale’s debut was a disaster but we rebounded well against Hull on Boxing Day, which takes some but not all of the pressure off our gaffer as he aims to prove himself to all the supporters who wish he hadn’t been given the job. A loss or even a draw tonight would do little to help him win over the doubters, but another victory could put us level with West Brom in fifth if results go our way.
I’m not expecting him to make loads of changes, but I’d like to see us finally give a striker a run of games. People keep saying there must be a reason why none of our coaches this season have trusted any of the strikers we have to lead the line, and that could be true, but nobody can tell me that Ba or Dack are a better option to be up there — Rusyn simply has to play, even if it’s just for the next few weeks while we sort a better striker out.
He looked good I thought before his injury/illness and I think he’d get you goals if given a run in the side, so let’s see what he can do — he may well be the answer, but we’ll never know if we don’t at least try.
Gav’s Prediction: 2-1 to the Lads. I think Rotherham might put up more of a fight against us than Hull did and we’ll get dragged into playing a scrappy game, but there’s a reason they’re bottom and they surely can’t be as lucky as they were against Boro again. I fancy Ballard and Neil to get the goals — although, it would be lovely if we finally saw a striker score a goal.