Sunderland AFC Preview – Crucial opportunity for Black Cats to get back to winning ways at Accrington

Jonny Lambert previews this weekend's fixture at the Wham Stadium

Saturday brings Newcastle fans another inevitable cringe-banter opportunity as we play Accrington Stanley away, in a game which Sunderland will be looking to get back to winning ways at their happy hunting ground.

Stanley play at the Wham Stadium where sadly drinks are not free, however larger than life owner Andy Holt is looking to extend their ground in the next 12 months to include a wealth of hospitality.. hopefully this trip is a distant memory by then. The away end is mostly uncovered terracing, which will be a real treat in the Lancashire higher ground in the midst of the bleak mid-winter. As per, the lads bring a full following with them, so the attendance could breach the 5,000 mark in this pint-sized tinpot ground. I expect to get wet.

So how have ‘little old Accrington’ faired this season, well pretty steady really. Currently sat 11th in the table within reaching distance of the play-offs, having been unbeaten in their last four outings. This also includes the scalp of leaders Rotherham on boxing day, and most recently a draw with the impressive MK Dons. Veteran manager John Coleman believes their luck is turning of late, and this has reflected in their score lines, noticeably tightening up at the back.

Looking at the head to heads, the lads have not lost to Stanley since their Poundland time-share in League One began, winning five and drawing two. Earlier this season Stanley gave the lads a tough game at the SoL registering 23 shots, but failed by only managing one goal, a header from evergreen defender Michael Nottingham. Last time out at ‘Accy’ Sunderland secured the win with a late goal from Ross Stewart, the first of what is now becoming a very impressive Sunderland career.

Stanley have had little activity in the January transfer window so far, seeing young goalkeeper James Trafford and defender Sam Sherring returning to their parent clubs Man City and Bournemouth respectively. The one incoming is from those barcode slugs up the road in the form of winger Rosaire Longelo, who had spent a trial period at Stanley in amongst playing for Newcastle u23s. The home side will be missing Joe Pritchard’s creativity as he continues to recover from injury, and Liam Coyle who is suspended following his red card against MK Dons.

Straight from backshift Colby Bishop will be leading the line for Stanley, having scored ten goals in all comps this season. Midfielder Harry Pell is also a goal threat, albeit recently has been making his appearances from the bench. Skipper Sean McConville will too be a player to watch, and likely to be all over set pieces. Like ourselves, Stanley have struggled with consistency in selection over the season.

For the lads it’s very much a mystery as we guess on whether players are back from injury, Covid, discipline, concussion protocol, or in the case of Arbenit Xhemajli and Trai Hume, whether they actually exist (shades of Declan John here). Carl Winchester is missing due to suspension following the collective train wreck that was the performance against Lincoln City Tuesday night.

Alex Pritchard is carrying a knock so the scary prospect of Aiden O’Brien making an appearance is becoming more and more likely. But that being said, Bailey Wright, Corry Evans, Ron-Thorben Hoffmann and Leon Dajaku could all conceivably be back in contention if they get the necessary training under their belt in time. Stewart will be looking to reach 20 goals for the season come 5pm on Saturday, and there’s every chance he will, the boy’s on fire. It’s essential Sunderland have some form of physical presence in the middle of the park, and the leadership of Wright has been desperately missed.

The Manager of the Month kiss of death has well and truly left its mark on the stubbly cheeks of Lee Johnson, who will be banished to the stands for the game following his attempt at the Undertaker’s signature move midweek (it didn’t work, he’s far too short). I expect a reaction for this game, and I’m backing the lads to get a result. I wouldn’t expect the game to be pretty, but like at Wycombe, could be end to end as both teams look for the win.

This is a significant game, not only in the automatic promotion race, but as Johnson seeks to break the streaky reputation that has haunted his managerial career thus far.