Sunderland AFC Preview – Vital to get a win in before the mid-season break

Sunderland travel to Birmingham City tonight for a Friday night showdown - Jon Lambert has all the team news

Friday night lights are warming up for our trip to St Andrews this week in what is our last game before the World Cup break, with the Lads hoping to get a vital three points off the in-form blue noses, Birmingham City.

Former Republic of Ireland assistant John Eustace is the Head Coach at Birmingham after replacing Lee Bowyer in the summer, and after a slow start is now getting a tune out of the Blues which sees them in the comfort of the top half of the table.

Their August was about as bleak as our October, only picking up three points from a possible 18, but they are now the form team in the league. But despite that the Blues gaffer is not short of a whinge, complaining that Sunderland didn’t a midweek game like them and it was “a little unfair”. Well cry us a river Eustace, we were smart enough (for once) to delay our fixture until 3rd December, when England will already be on their return flight back from Qatar. We should also hopefully have Messrs’ Ballard, Huggins, Stewart, Gooch and Alese back in the fold by then.

There’s a spine of experience within the Birmingham side, from John Ruddy in goal, to Harlee Dean at centre back, and strikers Scott Hogan and the talisman Troy Deeney. Added to that is a mix of young talent including our former Rolls Royce Dion Sanderson, Jordan James, George Hall and “Jude’s brother” Jobe Bellingham.

They generally play a 3-5-2 formation, utilising wing backs, with nine goal Hogan the first choice striker, with Lukas Jutkiewicz likely to join him up top providing the aerial threat. Man United loanee Hannibal Mejbri is a real talent and should add some bite to the midfield, alongside the experienced Juninho Bacuna who arrived from Rangers in January.

Birmingham will be without centre back Marc Roberts and Polish winger Przemyslaw Placheta for the visit of the Lads, but more concerning to Eustace will be the fitness of captain Dean. He missed the game against Swansea midweek and the Blues generally keep clean sheets when he plays. Midfielder Gary Gardner and defender Nico Gordon are also unavailable through injury, in what has been a gruelling 10 games in 41 days for the Blues.

For the Lads it would appear Tony Mowbray has nailed his colours to the mast in terms of Ellis Simms’ fitness, and has to start him again regardless.. particularly with such a unique mid-season break upon him. With hopefully lessons learned from the naivety of the Cardiff game, Alex Pritchard and Corry Evans will be welcomed back into the starting line up. Luke O’Nien serves a one match suspension for totting up, which is frustrating given that was the last game before the totals reset again. So I would expect Trai Hume to come in at right back with Bailey Wright retained alongside Danny Batth in an orthodox back four.

This is a game the Lads have to go balls out to win, as it’s a long month staring at the league table thinking how have we ended up only six points ahead of Huddersfield? The Birmingham media suggest the Blues are vulnerable when up against a high press, so Pritchard will be the key to leading that and getting the Lads going.

For me if Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts are on it, we’ll definitely score, what remains to be seen is if the weaknesses on the right side of our defence can cope with what Birmingham have up top. Fingers crossed the Lads will be departing the second city with a much needed win and performance, leaving Birmingham singing the Blues.

Ha’way the Lads!