Oh great, it’s Wycombe again.
Everyone’s favourite Points Per Game specialists find themselves back down in League One following one of the least surprising Championship relegations in recent memory (although in fairness they were a lot closer to survival in the end than you’d expect). Oh how the tables have turned, now they are the boys from the big time rocking up to a League One away day (in more than one way thanks to their manager and his, as Matt said on Thursday’s preview pod ‘your Mam’s new boyfriend’ aesthetic), having the temerity to presumably expect to win. To paraphrase some lad who may or may not still play for Wycombe, in our house you play by our rules lads, and don’t you forget it.
In all seriousness though, both sides are going into the game in great veins of form. Wycombe are joint top of League One as things stand, one point ahead of Sunderland and both teams won their midweek cup ties too. Much of the word around both fanbases and the wider League One world too suggests this game is an early contender for a heavyweight clash in the context of the division, with both sides expected to be near the top of the table come May.
The noticeable change in style and approach from this season’s Sunderland side has been well spoken of and applauded in equal measure, and it is imperative that we witness more of the same this time around. Last week’s game to AFC Wimbledon was arguably our weakest performance of the season and although it was pleasing to come away with 3 points regardless, you’d fancy we will have to up our game this time around.
Wycombe will be their usual physical, hard-running and thoroughly irritating selves, and will try their best to stifle and disrupt out rhythm and creative players. Dan Neil’s passing from deep will be key, so for me it’s imperative he is in the midfield rather than covering at left-back. If Dennis Cirkin isn’t fit, there are other midfielders I would rather cover for him than Neil – his pass at Blackpool for Aiden O’Brien’s first goal yet another example of why he is fast becoming one of our most important players.
Ross Stewart has made a fantastic start to the season, combining impressive technique with intelligent running and physicality. He will need to be on his game on Saturday – we will need a regular outlet for quick balls forward, and given the higher quality of the opposition we may well get less chances than we’ve had in the past couple of league games. Given Stewart hasn’t scored in two games but has missed chances in both, we need his finishing to be on point this time around.
The midfield battle will be key, with Sunderland old-boy Josh Scowen being one of Wycombe’s best players so far this season (according to the Wycombe fan who was on the What The Falk preview podcast anyway). We well know what Scowen can do, but also his limitations and we need to impose our game early in the middle, using it as the fulcrum for our attacks as we’ve done so successfully in so far. Corry Evans being an outside shout to be fit is a welcome bonus, but even if he can’t play we should have enough in there to get the job done.
Early in the season though it may be, this feels very much like a game Sunderland need to win, psychologically as much as anything else. The last thing we want is for our positive start to the season to be dealt a blow by a side who are likely to be up there with us through the season. If we start fast, keep our heads and play to our (seemingly considerable) strengths then I see no reason why we can’t be in the top two come 5pm on Saturday.