Sunderland AFC Preview – Black Cats Begin Their FA Cup Journey Against an Old Foe

They may be a division below us, but we know plenty about Shrewsbury Town as we renew rivalries for the weekend. Jon Lambert refreshes our memory
Sunderland playing Shrewsbury

If you asked me on the eve of the FA Cup third round draw what would be the least inspiring tie for us, Shrewsbury Town away would’ve be right up there. There is nothing personal in this, but it’s very much just a club in League One, a division that we’d almost claimed squatters’ rights within as we failed multiple times at teams such as this in our recent past.

In fact we failed to win at Montgomery Waters Meadow in our last three outings, and it was also the scene of Jordan Willis’ horrific injury. In the same game Remi Matthews and Jake Vokins produced some utter dross to allow the opening goal, and is a stark reminder of how far we have come as a club since those murky tier three days.

Much like the League Cup, which on Alex Neil’s (probably expensive) watch, we made a planned exit, and I cannot see this being a priority for Tony Mowbray given the current state of the squad. With one recognised striker in Ross Stewart, it’s hard to see who he’ll play up top if he wants to protect the big man. Maybe Leon Dajaku? The club did say he was a striker, which is why he must’ve played there week in week out for three months while Stewart and Simms were injured? Oh no he didn’t.. because he’s not a striker.

I would expect the gaffer is compelled to utilise youth as core players have just come out of a busy Christmas schedule that involved three games in seven days, notably Dan Neil, Luke O’Nien and the returning Dan Ballard the most affected. For the latter he wouldn’t have expected such game time so soon in his comeback, but in all honesty it’s great to have him back as he’s an absolute unit at the back, as well as a canny ball carrier. It’s been suggested a lot of the squad were playing with illness on New Years’ Day at Blackpool, and that will have pushed a few players beyond their limits.

The gaffer has written off defenders Dennis Cirkin, Aji Alese, Niall Huggins and Danny Batth from featuring, whilst midfielder Corry Evans who was flagged by the scientists of being on the brink of “extreme fatigue” is missing through illness. Not for want of cup-tying a potential loan departure, I would bring Jay Matete into play alongside an Edouard Michut or Abdoullah Ba, and give in-form Patrick Roberts some more valuable game time. It would be a good game to protect the likes of Anthony Patterson as well, allowing Mag-slayer Alex Bass a go in the nets. The FA Cup does like to throw up a headline, and it wouldn’t be beyond our confectionary-loving gaffer to give 15 year old Chris Rigg a run out too.

In terms of Shrewsbury, famously supported by Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls, it’ll be less a case of turn it up to 11, and more ‘how do we find an 11’, with the Shropshire side operating with a lean squad playing multiple players out of position. They’ve lost three in a row over Christmas, and former Sunderland coach Steve Cotterill will be under pressure as the last two defeats have been at home.

Former Sunderland attacker Aiden O’Brien is struggling for fitness, though you’d imagine he’d be desperate to play, as he once quoted “scoring goals is what I do”. Thanks for the memories Aiden. Salty Tom Flanagan may be missing as he went off after only 18 minutes in their latest game, a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Fleetwood Town. In the same game Matthew Pennington was controversially sent off, but has had his red overturned on appeal. This is the third time this season this has happened to Salop, and is very similar to the treatment we got the first season down in League One.

Of course everyone’s favourite Carl Winchester is currently within the Shrewsbury ranks, on loan from ourselves and now playing in his preferred midfield position. Reports suggest he has been excellent for the home side this year, and that comes as no surprise as up until his injury the Northern Irishman thrived at right back for the Lads, and was unfortunate to miss out on Wembley. Further reports suggest our Carl did not miss the celebrations however, another reason why we look on him so fondly, so we do. All that being said, he’s probably not allowed to play under the terms of his loan.

I never want to see Sunderland lose, but if I’m honest I’d just like to see us get through this game unscathed. The defence and defensive midfield is currently wiped out, and it’s been massively propped up by our attacking prowess that’s seen us score seven goals over the festive period. But players have stepped up, most notably Trai Hume and Abdoullah Ba of the young crop.. and we can’t not mention Amad Diallo who has been sensational. Though we’d like him to have his little feet up Saturday and be ready for revenge on Swansea the following week.

All that being said, I can see us getting a result Saturday, as it would appear Shrewsbury’s injury problems are greater than ours. Ha’way the Lads.