Overseen by the maestro in the kitchen Jack Ross and served to you at the Stadium of Light by his new look Sunderland team, what can we expect as Fleetwood Town prepare for kick-off in front of what is expected to be the biggest crowd to watch their players in modern memory?
Whats the story so far?
Seven long days since Sunderland finally gave up their 100% winning record at home. Seven long days that the players have had to wait for an opportunity to make amends. To be speaking about Sunderland in this manner, so soon after witnessing a second successive relegation speaks volumes about the work Ross has done in such a short period of time.
Playing at home is now carrying the expectation that his side will perform well, not only from the manager but the fans alike. The fact there is now a standard of football that the red and white faithful can expect, mixed with the feel good factor that is pulsing through everything Sunderland AFC related is like lightning in a bottle and the possibilities under new owner Stewart Donald seem endless.
Last Saturday Sunderland had to settle for a point against a tenacious (to say the least) Oxford United side. There are some fans and pundits who have pointed out that Sunderland just can’t seem to help going a goal behind in games at the moment and Ross will be hoping to alleviate those frailties with a little bit of tinkering; in the team and on the training ground.
Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town side are next in action against the Black Cats. They have found themselves a bit of form since an opening day defeat in the League and have a manager with more attitude than Theresa May at a rave.
Barton is definitely not everyone's cup of tea, but his roguish charm and uncompromising style of uniting his players with a play for each other and the fans philosophy has proved a breath of fresh air for the Cod Army. This sees Fleetwood undefeated in the league since suffering that opening day defeat to Wimbledon courtesy of a Joe Pigott goal.
Since then their form has alternated consistently between win and draw, with perhaps the most impressive coming last time out against Bradford where they won 2-1 despite having Wes Burns sent off. They’ll be hoping to make it two wins in a row in the league for the first time this season.
It is also the first time the two sides have met.
Jack Ross has been telling the press that he is aware that Sunderland are regularly conceding first, but hopes to have eradicated that problem with a bit of graft on the training ground. The gaffer has been focusing on how to negate a high press and hopes the Lads fare better if teams deploy similar tactics to Oxford.
"There have been other games when we have started the game well but fallen behind for whatever reason. The pleasing thing is we have reacted well in every game, naturally though we would like to go ahead in games and stay ahead. I don’t know (how Fleetwood will set up) because we have already seen teams approach games in different ways at the Stadium of Light.’"
"Oxford were very aggressive in how they pressed and approached the game high up the pitch. In terms of our preparation we can’t always say for certain how a team will shape up. What I can say though, is if they approach it the same way Oxford did then we will be better prepared than we were last week."
Joey Barton on the other hand seems to be taking as much pressure off his team as possible, most of his pre-match comments have concerned himself and his past. But he did have a sly dig about Fleetwood having a slightly better team than Sunderland and, of course, brought up the history he has with the Black Cats from his playing days as a dirty, dirty Mag.
"Saturday will be a very proud moment for this football club, and if you asked Andy Pilley when he started his journey with this football club as Chairman if he would be coming up against Sunderland in front of thirty odd thousand fans, he’d have told you that you were mad!’"
"When you look at where Fleetwood have come from and how they are progressing still, because there still is a gap between ourselves and Sunderland in size and structure; we will be going there in form, and I honestly believe we aren’t a million miles away from them as a team."
"For me it’s another game and as a player, I played in big derby matches and one was against Sunderland and I just see the three points on the line. Just like it was against Bradford last Saturday."
How could I leave out his more incendiary comments!?
"For me, this is just another game. I’ve been there as a player and played derbies at Sunderland . It’s the same as playing another big club like we did against Bradford."
"The weird thing is that there will be more people in the stadium on Saturday, than there will be in the whole town of Fleetwood!"
"On the pitch is where it matters, and I don’t see a David versus Goliath. If anything, I see us just better than them, man for man."
What could go down?
I expect Sunderland to line up with a couple of changes as Jack Ross continues to tinker in his quest to find his strongest XI. Barton would like to name an unchanged side but will be forced to replace the suspended Wes Burns.
Sunderland will try to keep the ball down and implement their passing game to feed strikers Josh Maja and Charlie Wyke. Wyke gives the Black Cats a different option as he’s a big lad and can dominate teams aerially, thats doesn’t mean Sunderland should revert to long balls as its definitely not what this side do best. Dylan McGeouch will bring intelligence and a dangerous range of passing so the likes of Lynden Gooch, Chris Maguire and George Honeyman can get at their opposite numbers and trouble the Fleetwood back four.
If Sunderland can keep an eye on top scorer Ched Evans and stop leaking goals at set pieces, the fans should go home happy.
Fleetwood will try to hit Sunderland on the counter with most of their game plan built around Evans’s movement in the box and putting him into space. The on-loan forward has started the season impressively and will be Town's dangerman. The pace of converted striker Ashley Hunter could cause problems down the left, while Paddy Madden is a proven goal scorer at this level. Expect them to have a real go as they look to cause problems with pace and trickery for the Sunderland back four.
Last weekend I couldn’t have been wider of the mark. But who’d have expected Oxford to perform how they did and the referee… well, the less said about him the better.
I’m hoping the Lads are going to impose their game plan and the fans will get to see that delightful passing game (and lets be honest, after Grayson it is Goddamned delightful to watch) that this Sunderland side have deployed before. Im going for two goals and a clean sheet for Jack Ross and his reborn Sunderland.
Ha’way the Lads.