Sunderland AFC Preview – Rotation Could be Key to Capital Gains

Jon Lambert takes us through the options facing Tony Mowbray tonight as Sunderland travel to Loftus Road

In our final outing to the capital this season (or is it??) we face Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, one of the true old school grounds of the EFL, albeit a little bit naff. This is the second of three midweek games in what is a busy seven-game month, so tonight, as hinted by the gaffer, may involve some rotation.

The White City outfit are another one of those Championship regulars, and hopes of a good campaign this season were slightly hampered when Michael Beale ended his short tenure with the side for the lure of a Rangers without the Queens Park prefix.

Neil Critchley was appointed mid-December following the World Cup break, and it’s fair to say he’s not had much of a positive impact. He got his first win against his former club Preston North End in his opening game, and is yet to win one since – proper loser behaviour. Minor mitigation is the side were massively struggling long before he arrived, failing to win all the way back to October.

All that being said of course, and the fact remains we’ve got to go away from home and get the job done, with a few tired legs and one eye on Bristol City on Saturday. Though the away form is good, having not lost on the road since mid-October (an unfortunate defeat at Blackburn Rovers), the lads will be backing themselves regardless. Tony Mowbray stated in this week’s press conference that he sets up to win every game, but tonight may see a couple of fresh legs to manage the workload.

So who misses out? If you disregard Anthony Patterson the obvious candidates are Dan Neil, Jack Clarke, and Danny Batth who have all played nearly 30 games each. Given the wide options the club possess Clarke could benefit from a rest, and with Luke O’Nien available again, and Pierre Ekwah now in the ranks, Neil could also save himself for Saturday.

Batth and Ballard as a centre back pairing means Batth’s omission is simply not an option – as a captain and experienced leader he is too important to miss out. Dennis Cirkin travels with the squad, but I’d imagine he’s very much Aji Alese’s backup for now, and once again Lynden Gooch and Niall Huggins miss out.

Patrick Roberts is really showing his class now, and as form may have dropped off slightly with Clarke and Amad Diallo, Roberts is showing why our Tony gave such high praise to the winger earlier this season. Another new feature from Mowbray is the encouragement of Alese and Trai Hume to bypass the midfield and support the front line, a tactic which almost gave Alese his second goal of the season at the weekend. Tonight would be a good game to see Alex Pritchard start, after three very impressive appearances off the bench that have all led to goals.

The goal threats for QPR will come from Jamal Lowe, Chris Willock, Tyler Roberts and of course goalkeeper Seny Dieng. Amusingly we will also have to be aware of Chris Martin who joined from the free-agent market post January and scored immediately off the bench against Millwall.

That good old pivot-point striker who can hold the ball up, free of charge.. no thanks mate, we’ll stick to our five wide forwards and six number 10s. The mitigation likely being that the club don’t want to throw money at a striker (who was free), despite having many “seven-figure” offers turned down in January. And lest we forget that Kristjaan Speakman doesn’t believe we play with a traditional number nine. Thank god Charlie Wyke and Ross Stewart didn’t score 68 goals between them in the last two and half seasons.

Despite being 16th in the table QPR find themselves only seven points off the play-offs, but it’s the one win in 16 which will give the Lads the most confidence going into this game. Mowbray we’ll be hoping the football will be more free flowing after recent games against Reading and Millwall, which was attritional at best. Chris Willock and former Sunderland player Jake Clarke-Salter may miss out for the home team, and striker Lyndon Dykes is out for the foreseeable after contracting pneumonia last month. We wish him well in his recovery.

Believe it or not QPR have some pretty decent supporters from the music industry in Pete Doherty (The Libertines), Robert Smith (The Cure) and Mick Jones (The Clash).. but they also have Shane Ritchie. So with London Calling hopefully it will be Just Like Heaven for the 2,500 travelling Lads fans as three points could see us jump up into the play off places. Ohhhh what became of the Likely Lads!

Ha’way the Lads.