Sunderland AFC Match Preview – Hoping the Lads give Cambridge an education

Jonny Lambert previews Cambridge’s second visit to the north east this season - and hopes this one doesn’t go their way.

With all the permutations surrounding the final two weekends of the season, it’s important Sunderland look no further than the visit of Cambridge United this weekend and let whatever else plays out, play out.

That being said, as a supporter it’s almost impossible not to think what if..? With only three games left, MK Dons, Plymouth Argyle and Rotherham United have really let the chasing pack back in. Sadly for us, it’s Sheffield Wednesday that are in the box seat to burgle second spot.

That could result in a scenario where we win all three games and end up automatic bridesmaids in dreaded first loser third place. But before last week automatic promotion was not even close to our radar, so lets consolidate our play-off status and mosey on down Wembley Way one more time.

Cambridge are very much ‘just a team’, peaking in the dizzy heights of League One. Their headline moment this season was knocking Newcastle United out of the FA Cup in their own back yard, a result made very amusing given the “League One” vitriol received by said club’s fans from up the road. Cambridge also gave us a hard time in the away fixture earlier this season, a game made significantly more trying by the full force of Storm Arwen. That day the Lads showed good grit and a bit of class from Nathan Broadhead to take all three points back to Wearside.

The U’s form of late has been quite impressive, winning four of their last six, which is a real turnaround since getting bodied 6-0 by Sheffield Wednesday at the start of March. Last Saturday they showed what they were capable of in the away at leaders Wigan Athletic, winning 2-1. They were very much good for the result as James Brophy put in a hell of a shift in midfield to earn Sky’s Man of the Match. Leading scorer Sam Smith got the winner but was Not The Only One [Ed: really?] tormenting the Latics’ defence, as Harvey Knibbs got his ninth goal of the campaign too.

In midweek, U’s young Head Coach Mark Bonner switched things up at home to Charlton, resting seven players from the weekend. They still only lost out to two heavily deflected goals late on.

Will he continue to give young legs another go this weekend, or was this purely a reward for the senior players’ shift against Wigan? One thing is for sure, sat in 12th place the U’s cannot finish any higher in the table and are unlikely to drop much further, so we have to fear a team with nothing to lose regardless of the starting line up. Whichever personnel is selected, Bonner is likely to favour the on-trend 4-2-3-1 formation.

For the Lads there are no new injury worries, and Alex Neil should have the option of bringing Alex Pritchard back in, though he may be tempted to save him for Rotherham on Tuesday.

The defence is organised, the unbeaten run and late winners have had their merits, but there are a few concerns still lingering in the starting XI. If Dennis Cirkin is playing as neither full-back nor wing back, then surely Arbenit Xhemajli or Danny Batth would be a more logical option. My theory is Cirkin is there to add pace to the back line and keep a natural left-footer on the left side of our back three.

The usual midfield roulette will be in play as Neil will have to decide between in-form Corry Evans, Jay Matete, and our well-rested Young Player of the Year, Dan Neil. Luke O’Nien was left wing-back down at Plymouth and didn’t do himself any harm there. Broadhead continues to get clutch goals for Sunderland, but Lads fans will be hoping Ross Stewart can end his wait for a goal (or two) and rediscover his Irn Bru-flavoured mojo in time for a highly anticipated play-off campaign.

In a weekend where the top eight are almost all in action against each other, we are the exception, with a favourable home game against a miditable side. Professionalism is the order of the day. Get the job done and let the rest drop points; the perfect way to set up a massive tie against Rotherham on Tuesday.

Home win please. Ha’way the Lads!