Sunderland AFC Preview – Back to back wins on the agenda at Ewood Park

Jon Lambert previews Sunderland's trip to Blackburn Rovers

Sunderland travel to Ewood Park this Tuesday night looking for back to back wins as they face promotion hopefuls Blackburn Rovers in the latest round of Championship fixtures. With the test of Burnley coming at the weekend, which will be the Lads fifth Lancashire opponents in six, Blackburn will be the game the Lads will be looking at to get that all-important win.

Rovers have been a mainstay of mid-table Championship since their relegation from the Premier League in 2012, except a single season in League One in 2017-18 (some have all the luck). It’s a far cry from the mid-nineties when under Jack Walker’s spending revolution they toppled a dominant Manchester United side to the Premier League, with a devastating strike force of Shearer and Sutton. We too have our own SAS, but they are both injured… and there’s no further S’s or other alphabet options available.

For Rovers their midfield enforcer and captain Ben Travis is suspended for the fixture, leaving manager Jon Dahl Tomasson considering academy graduate Jake Garrett as a possible replacement in the middle of the park. Centre back Daniel Ayala was missing with injury for Rovers win at Middlesbrough on Saturday, so Tomasson will be hoping he can past a late fitness test for Tuesday. There doesn’t appear to be any other injuries worries for the home team, who only have the Championship standard four strikers to pick from.

Leading scorer and Chilean international Ben Brereton Diaz will be the obvious goal threat, but Sam Gallagher will also have to be marked closely after his stunning strike last time out. Liverpool loanee Tyler Morton has joined the club this season, replacing Joe Rothwell who was sold to Premier League Bournemouth to sit on their bench at best. Sammie Szmodics of League One Peterborough fame is a decent attacking prospect, as is reality TV wannabe Bradley Dack who is pushing for a start following a run out for the u21’s.

If Ayala doesn’t make it Tomasson may go with the shape he used at Boro, which was a 3-4-2-1, a change up from their preferred 3-5-2. Unlike Alex Neil, Tony Mowbray doesn’t necessarily look to match teams up in terms of formation, it’s more a case of engineering a shape that can score goals without a striker on the pitch. And now we have clarity on whether Max Thompson is an option for the Lads up top.. it’s a very resounding NO following Mowbray’s honest assessment of him.

For the Lads we could see Niall Huggins added to the match day squad after turning out for the U21’s last week, and who knows, Ellis Simms may not be far off either. My instinct tells me that is unlikely either will feature midweek, but it is positive that they are both back out on that famous surface we call grass. Captain and deep lying midfielder Corry Evans is welcomed back from suspension and his role will be crucial as he faces up against his old club. Amad Diallo was outstanding when he came on Saturday and it’ll be tempting for the head coach to give him a start, and bus pass holder Jewison Bennette will also be champing at the bit for some game time.

Mowbray returns to the club that was also a project of youthfulness for him, and he’ll be desperate for his young side to put in a performance against the once Premier League winners. Tactically it will be fascinating to see how he lines the team up, with greater success coming in the second half against Wigan with a flat back four which featured Luke O’Nien at right back, and Aji Alese as centre back. What it demonstrated was you can play both Alese and Dennis Cirkin in the same team, and arguably O’Nien is better suited to right back than Lynden Gooch.

With cash turnstiles operating on the night, there is still plenty of opportunity to join the already well travelled away end to get behind the Lads. Blackburn’s season has been very inconsistent to date so it’ll be a real chance to join them in the play-off places with a win… with all things considered it would be remarkable given we are a promoted side without any strikers right now.

I envisage the Lads dominating the ball and looking to press in numbers to get those bodies in the box, which got the goals on Saturday. I’m backing the clean sheet so if we can get a goal we will come away happy. Ha’way the Lads!