Josh Maja came on and rescued a point against the Chairboyswith his late equaliser, his tenth League One goal of the season.
The performance itself will give manager Jack Ross plenty to ponder, who had opted to bench Maja but could well be ready to reinstall the striker from the off as they seek to claim top-spot in League One.
From Walsall’s perspective, they’re very much in the hunt for a play-off spot and despite being in 11th place, they remain just two points off the top six.
A 0-0 draw last time out against Fleetwood Town didn’t help their cause, but a morale-boosting victory against the league’s most fancied side will do them the world of good.
Walsall and Sunderland have only met on 13 previous occasions where, unsurprisingly, the Black Cats come out on top with eight wins to the Saddlers three.
The last four meetings between the sides have all ended in Sunderland victories but perhaps the most memorable victory came in a League Cup tie in 1999.
Leading 3-2 from the first leg, the Black Cats quite simply tore Walsall apart in the return leg and recorded an emphatic 5-0 victory at the Bescot.
Danny Dichio and Carsten Fredgaard both recorded braces with Eric Roy scoring the other, giving Peter Reid’s side an impressive 8-2 aggregate victory.
The last meeting between the sides came in an old Division One fixture from 2004, where Sunderland ran out 3-1 winners with goals from Julio Arca, Kevin Kyle and Marcus Stewart.
Walsall’s last win came in 1989 at Roker Park where they ran out 3-0 winners, which completed a league double over the Black Cats, winning 2-0 in the home fixture that season.
Sunderland have no new injury concerns but will still be without Lee Cattermole, Duncan Watmore and Charlie Wyke, who all remain side-lined for the foreseeable future. Maja is pushing for a recall after his equaliser last time out and will likely start ahead of Jerome Sinclair.
Walsall will be without their injured trio of Joe Edwards, Kory Roberts and Adam Chambers. Boss Dean Keates has no fresh injuries to contend with so as expected, the same side who drew at Fleetwood is likely to be named for Saturday’s clash.
Sunderland: GK; Jon McLaughlin DF; Reece James, Tom Flanagan, Jack Baldwin, Adam Matthews DM; George Honeyman, Dylan McGeouch AM; Lynden Gooch, Chris Maguire, Aiden McGeady ST; Josh Maja
Walsall: GK; Liam Roberts DF; Nicky Devlin, John Guthrie, Russell Martin, Luke Leahy MD; Zeli Ismail, George Dobson, Liam Kinsella, Josh Ginnelly ST; Andy Cook, Kieron Morris
It’s hard to look past a Sunderland victory as they seek to cement their place in the automatic promotion spots and although Walsall come into the game on a fairly bad run, it won’t be an easy game. Andy Cook will provide the main goal threat for the home side and he sits at the top of the scoring charts on five goals. Winger Zeli Ismail has the ability to cause the Mackems a problem or two and the Saddlers can call upon the experienced Russell Martin in defence.
Ross’ team are perhaps the envy of all League One sides with the number of talented individuals they can call upon. Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch have been terrific so far this season and much will be expected of them. Maja’s record speaks for itself and he’ll be looking to grow his reputation further with another strong outing. Defensively, Sunderland are looking solid but they’ll need to be at their best to stop the physical threat posed from Walsall.
Predicted score: Walsall 1-2 Sunderland
Sunderland have endured a less than happy couple of seasons, first being relegated from the Premier League before then suffering a second consecutive relegation as they played in the third tier of English football for the first time in their history. An instant return is looking likely as they currently sit in 2ndplace, just 2 points behind league leaders Portsmouth.
If they do make an instant return to the Championship, they will likely be one of the favourites to challenge for a place in the Premier League, especially following the takeover. Sunderland fans will no doubt be praying for a return to the top flight and will ideally like to keep clear of being favourites for relegation in the Premiership odds, which can be found here:
For now though, a win away to Walsall will keep the pressure on Portsmouth and keep the plan for promotion on course.