Sunderland AFC Match Preview: Back to business – and the first home game since August!

Football is back! And so is Jon Lambert, as he runs the rule over Saturday's visitors, Preston North End

The heartbreak of the international break is finally over and we can get back down to domestic business in the league, as the Lads return to the SoL for the first time since August to host Ryan Lowe’s Preston North End.

The goal-shy Lancashire outfit visit the SoL for the first time since their 2-0 win in the 2018/19 massacre season, that saw a small crowd witness Lee Camp in goal, Jake Clarke-Salter getting sent off, and the club fall to 24th in the table. Since then we have had a new owner (well, sort of), new seats, some young signings and a return to the Championship.

Preston, however, are on a whole life term as they are now in their eighth season in the division, with a seventh place finish their best return under the care of cash-money-Alex Neil. Lowe is now in charge after an impressive spell with Plymouth Argyle that not only took the pasty-munchers to the top of League One, but had them playing some fairly attractive attacking football in the process.

Lowe got maximum value out of the M5 and M6 making the 304 mile trip from Home Park to Deepdale, with a view to bringing that brand of attacking football to PNE. However it hasn’t quite transpired that way with PNE going on a remarkable run of six 0-0’s on the bounce, and only scoring three goals this season. With only one of those goals for the home crowd to witness so far, it’s fair to say the silver-tongued media darling will be testing the patience of even the most loyal of fans who bleeds lilywhite blood.

But the Lancashire media tend to believe the fans prefer to direct their concerns more at board level having felt Short Changed, leaving the August transfer window with only four strikers. Don’t they know that all you need is two injured strikers and a false nine system to bang in the goals?!

Lowe likes to play a 3-5-2, however it’s more like a 3-1-4-2 as Ben Whiteman sits directly in front of the back three. If the Lads can press high led through Alex Pritchard, stopping Whiteman will limit Preston’s ability to break the lines (that wonderful modern football phrase). Freddie Woodman has been excellent between the sticks with seven straight clean sheets this season, with Scottish centre back Liam Lindsay being a rock in the middle of the three.

PNE are missing a natural right wing back so midfield unit Brad Potts is currently covering that role.

Troy Parrot, Troy Parrot, has flattered to deceive as a striker with no league goals to date, and along with Emil Riis who only has one have been the guilty party in terms of wasted chances. As much as five one on ones have been missed this season, with Parrot being criticised for holding onto the ball too long.

Robbie Brady, on loan from Bournemouth is fresh from his stoppage time winner for the Republic of Ireland. He could be a threat with balls in the box, as could Alvaro Fernandez at left wing back who is on loan from Manchester United. The team are captained by central midfielder Alan Browne, who is in his ninth season with the Lilywhites. With Ben Woodman back from injury, and Daniel Johnson due to land Thursday from international duty with Jamaica, Lowe should be able to pick from a full squad.

The Lads in the main will have been well rested, with only Corry Evans and Jewison Bennette on senior international duty during the break. Some game time was also given at age group level to Bailey Wright (after the birth of his daughter), Alex Bass, Jay Matete, Leon Dajaku and Eduard Michut.. à la Yann M’Villa, Michut managed to get himself sent off on his club debut – sacré bleu. Evans got his 70th cap for Northern Ireland as they beat Kosovo 2-1, and was gratefully, for us, rested for the Greece fixture.

Bennette shone as he scored a brace against South Korea before a late equaliser from Spurs’ Heung-Min Son made it 2-2. Although Bennette was an unused sub for Costa Rica in the 2-1 win over Uzbekistan, the Costa Rican won’t be back on Wearside until Friday so will not likely be in contention. Young squad players Trai Hume and Abdullah Ba got game time for their respective country’s age groups, with Hume getting 180 minutes and Ba featuring in three fixtures. Sadly Ba picked up a dead leg, which is an actual thing and apparently not just an excuse to get out of school rugby in peak winter.

Ellis Simms has been requested back at Everton so they can assess his injury, so is not in the mix for Saturday. Owing to that the false nine tactic will have to remain on the table unless Amad Diallo is given a run through the middle. Despite lacking strikers we do have a good collection of wide men and attacking midfielders that Mowbray is keen to use as the Lads adapt to life without a fit Ross Stewart. Dennis Cirkin is back out on grass and could be available, however the form of Aji Alese may afford Cirkin some extended recovery time.

This will be a big test for the Lads coming up against a well-disciplined Preston side with plenty of Championship experience. But youngsters don’t dwell on those sorts of things, and a 40,000+ gate means it would be a great one to win. Three points would be huge for the Lads as they commence a seven game month which could really shape the path of their season with the World Cup splicing the fixture list. A draw wouldn’t be the worst result, but press high, smother the opposition and score first and it could be a cracking start to a busy October.

Ha’way the Lads!