Sunderland AFC Match Preview – Oxford United trip is a must-win

Jonny Lambert previews Sunderland's trip to Oxford United

Oxford is a city famous for universities, dictionaries, a comma, and of course indie giants Radiohead.

And it also happens to be where the little greedy shareholder Stewart Donald calls home. That being said, we are not there to take in the sights, nor are we there to dwell on one third of the artist formerly known as Madrox – we are there to fetch back three points to Wearside.

Oxford itself is a pleasant area, spliced by the River Thames, with a brewery as well as many ye olde bars, it’s a place only let down by their football ground – The Kassam “Stadium”. Much like an 80s Spanish building project it’s rendered incomplete as tools were downed after the completion of the third stand. They’ve not even put any Fake Plastic Trees behind the goal.

Now back in the 90s I went to the old Manor Ground where away fans were penned in like battery hens, but I much preferred that to the diluted atmosphere of the Kassam as all noise evaporates over to the Hollywood Bowl car park.

In terms of form eighth-placed Oxford have hit a sticky patch having only won two of their last six games, compounded by their defeat at strugglers Morecambe on Tuesday night.

At the weekend they saw defeat away at Plymouth, a result at which scouse whopper Karl Robinson couldn’t understand why the Pilgrims celebrated with such Street Spirit, which is a bizarre take given what was at stake. But form is temporary and we must respect that they are the league’s top scorers, a far cry from the Crewe, Lincoln and Gillinghams we have had to play of late.

Last time the two teams met was at the start of December where 22-goal leading scorer Matty Taylor cancelled out Leon Dajaku’s early opener in a 1-1 draw. That day Robinson had his men lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, however he tends to prefer a 3-4-1-2 shape, with Gavin Whyte or Billy Bodin playing the 10 role.

Goalkeeping duties have been shared this season by Simon Eastwood and Jack Stevens, with the latter preferred last time out at Morecombe. The three centre backs likely to start are Luke McNally, Ciaron Brown and Sam Long, whilst club captain Elliott Moore is expected to be missing through illness.

The U’s have had their fair share of injuries, most notably 13-goal midfielder Cameron Brannigan and striker Sam Baldock. Further injuries include Marcus Browne, Jamie Hanson and Alex Gorrin, which should give Robinson plenty of ready made excuses should Oxford fail to win. No Surprises that aforementioned Taylor will be the goal threat, with midfielders Mark Sykes and Nathan Holland both players to watch.

For the Lads, other than Aiden McGeady, Jordan Willis and Niall Huggins, who are out long term, the lads are in good shape with the welcome return of Nathan Broadhead and Alex Pritchard. Both made an emphatic impact in Saturday’s win against Gillingham with Pritchard leading the press showing no signs of rustiness, while Broadhead got the dramatic winner with seconds to play. A shape change may well be required to accommodate Broadhead into the starting line up, or the in-form Jack Clarke or Patrick Roberts would have to miss out.

It two from four as Jay Matete and Dan Neil will be hoping to regain their midfield status, over the recently preferred Corry Evans and Luke O’Nien. With Alex Neil’s game by game basis, horses for courses approach, pace at the back maybe preferred against this attacking U’s side. So Danny Batth may miss out if Neil reverts to three at the back, with Carl Winchester and Dennis Cirkin either side of Bailey Wright.

If the Lads’ sole objective is promotion this season, then this is the game we need them to turn up for. It’s not about being entertainers, it’s about continuing to be solid, whilst creating better chances and being ruthless with those opportunities. For the first time since being down in this parallel universe we call tier three, we have the chance to hit the play-offs as a team in-form, and that is Just what we need. Hopefully the Creep Karl Robinson will be left High and Dry, with not even the Karma Police to call come 5pm on Saturday. Ha’way the Lads.