If ever there was a fixture to remind ourselves of the current lowly status of our football club, it’s Morecambe at home on a Tuesday night.
This is the first time the Shrimps have played Sunderland in the league, having only played the lads twice before in their entire history. Back in 2012, forever controversial James McClean scored a brace to see Sunderland run out 2-0 winners in the League Cup. And in more recent history, an injury-time goal from the clinical Josh Maja saw us win 1-0 on our way to the Checkatrade Trophy final in 2018/19, eventually losing out to Pompey.
So what do we know about Morecambe? Well they hold a unique record, with only themselves and AFC Wimbledon in the Football League to never have been relegated. This is their debut season in League One, and they currently sit 20th, so come the season ending return fixture in April, that record may well just be the Dons’ to keep.
Managed by Northern Irishman Stephen Robinson, the Shrimps are likely to be in their change up all black kit. They are likely to remain with a 4-3-3 formation, with an all English front three of Wes McDonald and Arthur Gnahoua either side of Cole Stockton. Stockton is currently enjoying his best season in terms of goals, having netted 16 times in all comps so far this season. The former Tranmere man also made headlines in the recent derby victory against local rivals Fleetwood Town, when in the 90th minute Stockton scored from the halfway line. Proper Roy of the Rovers vibes.
Morecambe have struggled this season, last time out losing 4-0 to free scoring MK Dons. Prior to the aforementioned win against Fleetwood, they hadn’t registered a league win since the end of September, when the Shrimps turned over the Imps! Not surprisingly the Morecambe side lacks household names, however Ryan McLaughlin, the brother of former Sunderland full back Conor, is within the ranks. They played non-league Buxton live on the BBC Saturday lunchtime in the FA Cup, managing a 1-0 win on an artificial pitch.
Sunderland could conceivably play the same team for the third league game in a row. The second half display against Oxford Saturday was encouraging from the lads, with some in-game management from Lee Johnson changing shape as they pushed for a winner.
The lads aren’t far off, and it’ll be just a case of lacing up the shooting boots before the reward for pressure is converted into goals. Lynden Gooch will have learned a costly lesson from the weekend, knowing he cannot dwell on the ball and must be prepared to do the ugly side of the game. It is League One after all.
With first choice full-backs Niall Huggins and Dennis Cirkin only a matter of weeks away from fitness now, this is another fixture that the lads have just got to get through. Bailey Wright and Callum Doyle should have the necessary strength to deal with the threat Stockton brings, and I would expect Dan Neil and Carl Winchester to have the class to run the midfield.
Tuesday night’s game is the second in a trio of home games for the lads in eight days. A win would set up a fascinating game against fellow promotion hopefuls Plymouth, taking the long journey up the SoL on Saturday. Nathan Broadhead and Ross Stewart up top together does polarise opinion, even within the WMS ranks (see Saturday’s Reaction Pod).
But if they can play a little closer together, the chances and goals should come. Johnson, forever under pressure, knows that nothing less than three points will be good enough for the Sunderland faithful. Hopefully come April (or May) we can all stick two fingers up to this division, Lee.