Sunderland travel to Portman Road on Saturday looking for their first double of the season, against the Tractor Boys of Ipswich Town.
Currently sat 12th led by interim manager John McGreal, following the surprise sacking of two-tone Paul Cook, Town find themselves under pressure following a big spending spree in the summer that saw 19 new players arrive. And that spending will have to continue as they look to recruit a permanent manager, with the likes of Neil Warnock, John Terry and Frank Lampard being bandied about.
Being on-trend, Town exited the FA Cup this week at the hands of League Two Barrow – it seems it’s not only Sunderland’s job to get knocked out by lower league opposition. At least the lads were savvy enough to do it in two fewer games. But it will be the nature that Town lost to Barrow that will probably impact Saturday’s game the most, with Ipswich second to every ball and clearly looking off the pace.
If Lee Johnson is considered streaky, then you could argue that streakiness has been the blueprint of Ipswich’s season so far. No wins until the end of September, then only two defeats in 15, before a run that has seen only one win in eight – and that was against Crewe!
So who are the dangermen for the home team? Striker Macauley Bonne has 11 goals this season, matching our own Ross Stewart in the goal charts, however he is also in a dry spell having not scored in six weeks. The next nearest goal threat are midfielders Bersant Cerlina and Connor Chaplin with only four goals each, which is a surprise given how free scoring Town have been this season. Scott Fraser has flattered to deceive at this level, but Sone Aluko will be undoubtedly cause problems again for Sunderland.
As for the lads, Lee Johnson will wait on a fitness test on Friday to see if in-form Lynden Gooch has recovered from his groin strain. Positive news is that Dennis Cirkin and the myth, Corry Evans are back in training, joining Denver Hume who is slightly ahead of the pair and maybe in contention for selection. This would solve a problem should Gooch not be ready as Hume is a natural left wing back, who once discovers the ability to cross the ball accurately, will be some prospect.
This would allow Leon Dajaku to continue his purple patch tormenting League One full backs, and hitting those “POMO” areas. Although the central defence is settled in terms of personnel, Arbenit Xhemajli continues his rehabilitation, now in a phase of “physio control”, as Johnson likes to put it.
So head to head, how do the lads fair? Well since being in the third tier Sunderland have had the edge on Ipswich, drawing one away at the start of the 2019/20 campaign, and winning the last the last four meetings. The recent home win for the lads was clearly not without its fortune, however this did break a run of defeats and showed signs that Johnson had regained the dressing room. Last season under the lights on Sky at Portman Road, the lads churned out a very professional performance with Charlie Wyke scoring in a 1-0 victory, and that flick from cult hero Carl Winchester in the build-up to the goal.
If the lads can get off to another explosive start and get an early goal, I would expect Ipswich to implode and the lads to see the win through. It’s always a decent pitch down at Portman Road, and that will enable the lads to hopefully play an attractive brand of pressing football that we all want to see. The reward for a win Saturday could see Sunderland sat top on Christmas Day, now that would make the festive beers taste even better.