Sunderland AFC Preview – Batth in at the deep end for Black Cats debut

Jonny Lambert takes a look at Portsmouth ahead of our game against the South Coast stragglers on Saturday

So for the 11th time in four seasons we have to hear the repugnant drones on loop of ‘Play Up Pompey’ in what has become a bizarre Checkatrade and play-off induced rivalry with Portsmouth.

Prior to this endless League One roadshow, both teams were locking horns in the Premier League, way back in 2010, when bacon-loving Steve Bruce and his squad took on a continental (and expensive) Pompey side. Like Sunderland, Pompey have a decent history, of course by that I mean thousands ago. They’ve won two league titles, two FA Cups, and the ‘best piss up in London competition’, the EFL Trophy, against us of course.

So how did the 2008 FA Cup winners and Premier League regulars wind up in League One? Well in 2009/10 Balran Chainrai declared the club’s £135m debt and had them put into administration to avoid the inevitable liquidation. Along with the requisite points deduction they were duly relegated, but ironically did make an FA Cup final appearance that season, losing 1-0 to Chelsea.

Owing to their financial constraints they were denied a European licence, and could not participate in European football the following season. The club, stripped of their most valuable assets, dropped down through the leagues and ended up plying their trade in League Two, until 2016/17 when Paul Cook got the now debt-free club promoted.

So, enough about a club’s recent history that is as tragic as ours, and onto this weekend’s game. Like many Danny Cowley sides we’ve seen over the years expect Pompey to be organised, savvy, and reactive. After a slow start to the season, Cowley’s team hit their straps once they beat us, winning six and drawing one, which secured the south coast gaffer Manager of the Month for November.

Such is the curse that hit our very own Lee Johnson after winning the award, what followed was less fruitful, with Pompey only managing two wins in the last eight to date. Their latest outing at AFC Wimbledon saw them struggle to break down the Crazy Gang, with a not so crazy goalless draw.

The January window has seen some movement at Fratton Park, with the snipers dream John Marquis sold to shithouses Lincoln. Before Marquis could close the door behind him, Tyler Walker was in on loan from Championship Coventry City, linking up again with Cowley after a spell together at the aforementioned Lincoln.

Walker was straight in the side for their game on Tuesday night at the new Plough Lane, and will no doubt will be looking to punish us once again on Saturday. Defender Hayden Carter has come in on loan from Blackburn Rovers, so more Championship pedigree comes into their side.

The last time Pompey visited the SoL they inflicted the lads first loss of the season in the 2020/21 campaign, winning 3-1. Leading scorer Marcus Harness did the damage that day, and expect him to be a threat Saturday along with wind-up merchant Ronan Curtis. Pompey have benefitted from consistency in selection, with a fluid bench to bolster it up. They generally setup as a 3-4-3 so the front three is likely to be Harness, George Hirst, and Walker (who will be wearing the famous number nine). There are no suspensions as the visitors are yet to see red this season, but Reeco Hackett-Fairchild may miss this one with a foot injury.

As for the lads, new signing Danny Batth is likely to come straight into the centre of defence, where his no-nonsense approach is expected to be preferred to Tom Flanagan’s fragility. Corry Evans should be back in to shore things up in the middle of the park following his completion of the concussion protocol.

Alex Pritchard may get benched if he still carries a knock, and it’ll be down to whether Johnson wants to give Trai Hume a start at right back after turning out for the u23s on Sunday. Attacking options could be bolstered closer to the weekend as the club are in communication with both Patrick Roberts and former goal getter Jermain Defoe.

This season suggests early goals mean comfortable wins for the lads, so it’s imperative the lads get off to an aggressive start on Saturday.

We’ll be hoping after 11 days the stadium pitch will be rested, restored and not artificially flooded to allow for the lads to play their best brand of football. For Johnson it’s no longer about “learning the lessons” as we chase down Wigan, Wycombe and Rotherham, but simply doing what we do best without the individual errors and lack of game awareness.

Poor results come in clusters for the lads, so Johnson will want to right recent wrongs and get 2022 off and running. As far as this fixture is concerned, revenge is order of the day, particularly after the floody farce at Fratton Park earlier this season.