Town Looking to Close Gap With First Ever Stadium of Light Win
Friday, 2nd Feb 2018 10:59
Town visit manager Mick McCarthy's old club Sunderland on Saturday looking for a first ever win at the Stadium of Light and seeking to close the eight-point gap to the play-off places.
The Blues, who are 12th, have lost on their last seven visits to Wearside in all competitions and picked up their only point at the Stadium of Light on their first visit in February 1998 when the game ended 2-2.
Town’s last win on Wearside - where they haven't played for 11 years - was back in August 1989 when John Duncan’s Blues ran out 4-2 victors at Roker Park.
Current boss McCarthy is well aware that his team, who have won just once in their last eight in all competitions, needs to start winning on a regular basis if a once-promising campaign isn’t going to fade into yet another mid-table finish.
“For sure, but it isn’t going to be easy going to Sunderland,” he said. “I saw them on Tuesday [when they lost 3-1 at Birmingham] and they’ll be desperate for the points on Saturday.
“I would imagine there’ll be a good atmosphere, certainly at the start. We’ll have to go and silence that and they’ll be up for it.
“Then we’ve got Burton [at home]. Don’t anybody start looking round thinking these games are easy because, as I always remind everybody, when we were in the bottom three and just out of it, we were a right pain in the backside to everybody, they didn’t like playing us. And that’s just what these will be.”
Regarding closing the gap to the top six, he added: “We’ve got to do that. Me sitting here saying that we’ve got to do it, that doesn’t mean anything. We’ve got to earn it, we’ve got to play well on the pitch.
“Who knows, if we can beat Sunderland, suddenly there’ll be more pressure on the Burton game, it’ll be ‘Can we string two wins on the bounce?’ and if we do we’ll be on the back of the play-offs.
“So, let’s concentrate on Sunderland and go up there and try and win and if we do, who knows that will take us.”
McCarthy was manager at Sunderland between 2003 and 2006 and says he thoroughly enjoyed his time in the North-East, even if it didn’t get off to the easiest of starts, something he shares with current boss Chris Coleman.
“I had a lovely time,” he reflected. “I had a fabulous time at Sunderland. From a tough start. I was just talking about Chris going in and it’s like trying to stop an oil tanker with a canoe paddle. I’m telling you, it’s hard work.
“I lost my first 11 games there, nine in the Premier League. We tried to win them all because we were going to have to win, I think we needed to win six or seven out of nine to stay up, so you might as well try and win them. But we got beaten in them, which doesn’t look great.
“And then we lost the first two the next season to make it 11. But we ended up in the play-offs. We lost them but won the Championship the following year.
“So, it was a tough start but I loved my time there, it’s a great club, great people. It’s a fabulous stadium.
“I think I’ve said before, I used to take players, anybody I was trying to sign, I’d show them everything then take them up to the directors’ box and walk them out into the stadium.
“And it’s brilliant, it’s mind-blowing when you walk out, even more so when it’s full, of course.
“But equally, everywhere I’ve been I’ve enjoyed my job. Sunderland was fab, really, really loved it.”
Is he surprised at their current predicament, with the Black Cats going into the game second-bottom following their relegation from the Premier League last season.
“I don’t know what to say,” he added. “I don’t know what to think of it, actually. I’m sometimes at a loss.
“They’ve been on the brink of going down for the last however-many seasons and somebody’s come in and waved their magic wand and kept them up.
“Then the following season they’ve been in a similar position. And I feel for Chris because he’s a really good guy, firstly, and he proved what he’s worth at Wales with the job he did there.
“I don’t feel for him that much that I want to give him any sympathy on Saturday but I understand how tough that job is. And if it’s not going right, wow! The bigger the club, the more opinions, the more fans, the more noise, the more media. It’s a really tough place to manage.”
Like McCarthy when he took over at the Stadium of Light, Coleman returned to club management after being an international boss when he was appointed at Sunderland in November after Simon Grayson's sacking. Is it an easy transition to make?
“Piece of cake, I won the Championship!” McCarthy laughed. “No, it’s far from it. I think it’s changed, by the way, since I did it as well.
“I think the league’s got better, there’s better teams, there are better players, maybe there are better managers, different ideas, different ways of playing.
“This league has certainly got better, the Championship, since I took the Sunderland job in 2003, and equally the Wolves job in 2006.”
He added: “But it’s not hard for Chris coming back and doing it because you want to get back into it, you’ve had that time as an international manager, you’ve gone and watched games.
“I used to sit in the stand and I’d be looking down thinking, ‘I’d love to be down there’. As much as I enjoyed that job, you wanted to be down there more often.
“I had five years and did 68 games - I do that in the first three months in the Championship every year. So, you want to get back into it.
“But when it’s tough, sometimes you look back and think, ‘Wasn’t so bad my international manager’s job after all!’.”
McCarthy is likely to make a handful of changes to the team which lost 1-0 at home to Wolves last Saturday.
Bartosz Bialkowski will be in goal with Jordan Spence probably continuing at right-back and Jonas Knudsen on the left.
The Blues boss may bring Adam Webster back into the centre of his defence - alongside skipper Luke Chambers - for Cameron Carter-Vickers with the former Pompey man having put in an outstanding display for the U23s on Monday after recovering from his recent achilles injury.
Cole Skuse is over his ankle problem and will replace Stephen Gleeson in the deeper midfield pairing alongside Callum Connolly.
Joe Garner is again set to be the lone out-and-out striker with Bersant Celina, Martyn Waghorn and probably new signing Mustapha Carayol the trio behind him with David McGoldrick a doubt having missed training this week after suffering a knock against Wolves.
Sunderland signed goalkeeper Lee Camp, striker Ashley Fletcher and midfielder Ovie Ejaria on deadline day and they are all expected to be involved against the Blues.
Camp, who joined on loan from Cardiff, and Fletcher, on loan from Middlesbrough, are likely to start, while Ejaria, on loan from Liverpool, is set to be among the subs.
Kazenga LuaLua, a free transfer from Brighton, and Chelsea loanee Jake Clarke-Salter were recruited earlier in the window.
“They’re here to play, they’re here to get on the pitch,” manager Chris Coleman told the Northern Echo.
“Kazenga has plenty of experience, but he’s just lacking fitness. Fletch has the experience, he’s played in play-off finals.
“Lee has been there, seen it and done it, so that won’t be a problem, and Ovie has played international football for England and come through with flying colours. They’ll be fine.
“They’ll come in, add to us and help is. It’s just a matter of them getting onto the pitch now and hitting the ground running.”
Reflecting further on his additions, Coleman added: “At the very least we are going to improve the environment. The personnel we have brought in will add value to the squad.
“At the stage we are at in the season there are enough games and enough points to play for to make sure we are going to be OK. We have got to make sure we are OK.”
Central defender Lamine Kone is a big doubt having suffered a knock to his knee in the 3-1 defeat at Birmingham on Tuesday, while former Blues loanee Jonny Williams is out with a shoulder problem.
Veteran defender John O'Shea could return having missed the Birmingham match through illness, while wantaway midfielder Jack Rodwell remains at the club having been unable to find a new club prior to Wednesday's deadline.
Historically, the sides are closely matched with Town having won 22 of the games between the teams (22 in the league) and Sunderland 20 (18) with seven (seven) having ended in draws.
In September, Town hit five at Portman Road under Mick McCarthy for the first time as the Blues thrashed the already-deep-in-trouble Black Cats 5-2.
Waghorn opened the scoring against his old club in the sixth minute, Billy Jones equalised four minutes later but Spence restored the impressive Blues’ lead when he headed home Waghorn’s corner on 27 to make it 2-1 at the break.
In the second half, Waghorn created the best of the night for Celina and then Town’s fourth for McGoldrick, his Ireland team-mate Aiden McGeady pulled one back for the Wearsiders, then sub Grant Ward added the fifth a minute from time.
Town last faced the Black Cats at the Stadium of Light back in January 2007 when David Connolly's 13th-minute goal was enough to give the home side, then under the management of Roy Keane, a 1-0 victory over Jim Magilton’s Blues.
Despite enjoying a lot of possession, particularly in the second half, Town were unable to get back on terms, with the best chance falling to sub Danny Haynes.
Current Town boss McCarthy was manager at the Stadium of Light between March 2003 and March 2006, taking them to Championship title in 2004/05.
During his time with the Black Cats McCarthy’s record reads, played 147, won 63, drew 26 and lost 58, a win percentage of 42.9.
Blues striker Waghorn was born in South Shields and came through the ranks at Sunderland, making three starts and five sub appearances before moving on to Leicester for £3 million in August 2011 following a successful loan spell.
Titus Bramble, now coaching the U14s in Town’s academy, was a Sunderland player between 2010 and 2013, making 46 starts and five sub appearances, scoring once.
On-loan Crystal Palace man Williams is the only player with Sunderland to have represented the Blues.
The Welshman made 16 starts and 12 sub appearances in four loan spells at Portman Road, scoring two goals.
Saturday’s referee is Darren England from South Yorkshire, who has shown 94 yellow cards and two red in 45 games so far this season.
England, who is in his second season as a Championship official having taken control of 20 matches at that level, has never refereed the Blues before.
However, he has officiated in three Sunderland matches already this season, the 1-1 draw at Hull City in September, in which he booked seven players, including four Black Cats, the 3-3 draw at Brentford a month later, when he again yellow-carded four Wearsiders, to whom he also awarded a penalty, as well as two Bees, and their 2-0 win at Burton in November when he cautioned three of the North-East club’s players.
Squad from: Bialkowski, M Crowe, Spence, Iorfa, Kenlock, Chambers (c), Knudsen, Carter-Vickers, Webster, Skuse, Connolly, Hyam, Bru, Gleeson, Ward, Celina, Carayol, McGoldrick, Waghorn, Garner, Sears, Drinan.
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