Sunderland AFC Match Preview – Midfield engine room key to Black Cats continuing their promotion charge at Wycombe

Jonny Lambert looks ahead at Sunderland's trip to Adams Park

Sunderland travel to Adams Park on Saturday looking for a double over Wycombe Wanderers, with the lads being televised for the third game in four. Owing to the power of TV, kick off is 12:30, meaning travelling fans will have an early wake-up call.

Managed by Gareth Ainsworth, Wycombe are another one of those annoying League One outfits that have tried to create a pseudo-rivalry with us after a few gritty encounters. Ainsworth himself loves to buck the trend of managerial tracksuit / three piece suit apparel, preferring to go ‘rodeo casual’ with cowboy boots, denim jeans and shirt buttoned down as far has his hair hangs. I’m sure he’s trying to maintain his rock star persona, but sadly he looks more like a cross between Woody from Toy Story and Uncle Bryn having a barn dance in Gavin & Stacey.

The edge to this fixture started not long after Duncan Watmore got an injury-time equaliser at Adams Park in 2019, as time-wasting Wycombe assistant coach Rich Dobson volleyed a ball into the stands (not quite the subtle dark arts). A mass brawl ensued with George Honeyman and Nathan Tyson, both subs at the time, ending up seeing red for their part in the brawl. A third red was also shown when play got underway as Marcus Bean chopped Watmore in half, and in the process sadly ended the goal hero’s season.

The following year we lost 1-0 at the hands of a Darius Charles goal, and the goalscorer couldn’t resist giving some big boy remarks about being “in our house… playing by our rules” .. yeah okay Darius. But of course this was all put to bed when we served up two home massacres on the Chairboys in recent times, winning 4-0 and 3-1 respectively. Buckinghamshire losers.

So how are Wycombe getting on this season? If we start with the cups, it fair to say they’ve been a shambles. In the EFL Trophy they somehow lost 3-1 at home to Aston Villa U21’s, a feat not considered possible by some. Then lost to MK Dons 2-1, before rounding the group stage up with a 5-0 home defeat at the hands of Burton Albion.

In the EFL Cup they required penalties to navigate past League Two outfits Exeter City and Stevenage Borough, before getting it handed to them by cash-money-Man City 6-1. And to round off the cup campaign Wycombe lost an FA Cup replay at home to another League Two team, the north east’s very own Hartlepool United.

All that being said, the league form has been impressive, currently sitting fourth, just four points behind the lads. They won last time out at Charlton Athletic, but results have been a bit hit and miss for the team that is always there or thereabouts.

Wycombe’s leading scorer is Sam Vokes with just seven goals, though Garath McCleary will be a player the lads will need to watch with six goals and four assists this campaign. Brandon Hanlon is also a threat, and beast mode himself, Adebayo Akinfenwa, has got vital goals from the bench. Joe Jacobson is the pick of the defenders, playing every game, and contributing with four assists from the back. In midfield Jordan Obita adds consistency and creativity, while former Sunderland player, rat boy Josh Scowen looks to win the ball back. The home league form is right up there (but not the best, that’s us) with eight wins and only two defeats so far.

For the lads, it’s very much a case of big wheels need to keep on turning, with consistency in selection and the creative midfield three of Dan Neil, Elliot Embleton and Alex Pritchard being the driving force to all things good right now.

New signing Trai Hume may get handed a debut, but with the expected physical nature of this game, Lee Johnson may opt to keep Bailey Wright on the right side of defence. It cannot be underestimated how well Wright has done the last couple of months, not only in the expected leadership he brings, but his aggression in the tackle and distribution out of the back.

Callum Doyle dealt with Vokes brilliantly in the home win over Wycombe earlier this season, so more of the same from him will give the lads a great chance for their third clean sheet in a row. In-form Ross Stewart and Leon Dajaku will be the obvious goal threats, with the latter likely to be a handful with the ball at his feet approaching the box.

So for the December Manager of the Month in waiting, this is a big game for Johnson and his in-form squad. A win here while Rotherham United and Wigan Athletic are on cup duty would enable his team to return to the top of the table. It would also push Wycombe seven points adrift, perfectly setting up Tuesday’s game against League One slugs Lincoln City at fortress Stadium of Light. To lose at Wycombe’s house would be madness, but I’m confident the lads can go one step beyond and make it a house of fun. Away day points for the lads.