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Preston North End v Sunderland: Sky Bet Championship

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Roker Roundtable: How should Sunderland approach Saturday’s clash with Luton?

As we prepare for our first Championship playoff game in nineteen years, we asked our writers for their thoughts on how the Lads might approach the first leg against the Hatters

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

Luton have twice gone ahead against us this season and we pegged them back both times, so we might have a bit of a psychological advantage in that respect.

They know we’ll be hard to shake off and as long as they don’t fly into a massive lead, the Lads will always be in with a chance.

That ability to get back into things, combined with our away form, means that Saturday isn’t ‘do or die’.

We know that Luton will be dangerous at set pieces and the like, so we’ll have to be mindful of giving away cheap free kicks or losing the ball. On the other hand, we possess several threats of our own and if we can focus on those strengths and let our dangermen do their stuff, we can be confident.

Our own unbeaten run is pretty good, so we’re going into the game with plenty of momentum.

We shouldn’t forget that for most people, mid-table safety would’ve been deemed a success so it isn’t as if we’re under pressure. The squad has done well to get us to this point and they get to perform in front of an appreciative full house as a result of their hard work.

There’s never a dull moment at Sunderland and even in a period of supposed acclimatisation, we’ve ended up with a bit of drama.

A combination of results elsewhere and our seemingly never ending ability to overcome injury problems could lead you to think our name is on the third and final promotion spot, but although there would be some disappointment if we don’t progress, the overall trend is still positive.

We’ve outperformed other sides moving up into the Championship recently and are in a much better state than the likes of Wigan, Reading and West Brom, for example, all of whom seemed to be streets ahead of us last year.

They now have financial restrictions or other problems going into the summer, whereas we look to be on a decent footing and can go into the playoffs in good spirits and excited to see where that takes us.

Haway the Lads!

Sunderland v Watford - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says…

I’d have to agree with most of Mark and Andrew’s views in that we need to be careful that our less than convincing home form doesn’t give us too much to do at Kenilworth Road.

While watching the AC/Inter Milan game on Wednesday night, a very apt comment was made by Rio Ferdinand, when he said that ‘You can’t win the tie in the first leg, but you can go a long way to losing it.’

This also applies to Sunderland and we need to stay in the race at the halfway stage.

Getting through the first leg at home, ideally with a slender lead, would be perfect. That’ll mean Luton have to come at us at their place and I’m certain that we’ll exploit that.

Given how we play away from home, I can’t see the second tie being a major issue unless Luton pull some really strong tactics out of the bag.

They’ve failed to beat us in both games this season despite being a more established Championship side, and we’re in better form than everyone in the playoffs bar Coventry across the last five games.

We’ve got the momentum and the will, and we’ve certainly got the skill.

The slight challenge we may face involves Kenilworth Road and how physically tight it is. If Luton go there on level terms or better, there’s a risk that they’ll simply try to stop us playing football, which will be easier to achieve on a compact pitch.

They may also try to bully us physically, knowing that if it comes down to good football, we’re sure to win it. We need the referee to be strong and to prevent these approaches from working, especially with so much at stake.

All we can do is take it to them and do all we can to win the game. Maybe we’ll tweak a few things from recent games, and being tougher at set pieces is one lesson that we’ve hopefully learned from the Watford home game, and we’ll be OK.

I can’t get to either semi final, and I also can’t make it to Wembley, so go on, lads. Be ‘so Sunderland’ and do it just to p*ss me off because I can’t be part of it.

I dare you…

Mark Wood says…

For a two legged tie, you’d normally say that the way to approach it would be to get a comfortable win by two goals or more at home and then keep it tight and get a draw or a win in the away match.

However, this has been a crazy season where we’ve exceeded all expectations without out-and-out strikers for much of the campaign.

Because of the way we’re set up, with a team that’s ruthless on the break, it’s our away form that’s carried us into the playoffs, so I’d encourage us to keep doing the things we’ve been doing.

It’s kind of the opposite to the expectation you’d normally hold for the two games, but you can’t overlook what works for this Sunderland team. If we come out of the home game with a draw, I’d be confident we could get something from the second leg at Kenilworth Road.

It would be brilliant if we got a win at the Stadium of Light, but our home form has been patchy all season. However, we’ve beaten West Brom, Norwich and Preston on the road, and we also got a point at Burnley, so it’s not beyond our capabilities to go to Luton and win.

By the way, everyone thought it was over when Newcastle held us to a draw at home in the first leg of the playoffs, but we still went to their place and won, and that was as tough as it could get.

We’ve done it before and we can do it again.

Sunderland v Luton - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images


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