Wigan Athletic v Sunderland AFC Match Preview: We Have To Win This One

Matt Wilson previews a clash at Wigan Athletic in which Sunderland simply can't afford to drop points.

It’s over, you don’t need to tell me…

Well, Sunderland’s unbeaten run is anyway, but our promotion push is far from done. With defeat at the hands of Charlton (why always Charlton?) on Saturday still lingering, attention turns to tonight at Wigan and the chance to get things back on track.

On the face of it at least, an excellent opportunity awaits against a side sitting 21st in the division and staring League Two in the face. A look at the form table doesn’t make for much scarier reading, as they sit 16th based on results from the past 10 games. Dig a little deeper though and this side could provide a sterner test than is initially apparent.

The Latics have pulled out some biggish results over the past couple of months. A convincing 3-0 win against MK Dons at the beginning of March was followed by a decent draw with Ipswich Town and on Saturday, while Sunderland were struggling against one of our old rivals, Wigan were busy demolishing Doncaster Rovers 4-1.

Then of course there’s the result in the corresponding fixture. An, at best, ill-prepared Lee Johnson oversaw a bitterly disappointing start to his Sunderland managerial career as the Latics edged to a 1-0 win last December. That victory brought an end to a 10-game winless run for Wigan, and recently there have been signs of better days off the field too. A long-awaited takeover from Phoenix 2021 Ltd was finally ratified by the EFL at the end of March, even if manager Leam Richardson continues to fill his role on just an interim basis.

On the playing side of things Joe Dodoo, signed as a free agent in February, seems to have made a difference up top. The 25-year-old striker has had an underwhelming career so far, having been released by Bolton in 2019, but has the sort of physical presence and recent eye for goal to cause justified anxiety in what is still a patched-up Sunderland defence.

On that point alone, surely Saturday’s game is the jump start needed to bring absent players back into the fold. Denver Hume now has a couple of substitute appearances under his belt and must surely be handed a start tonight, while Bailey Wright’s omission from Monday’s Under-23 squad suggests he’s in contention as well. To name another we might want to bring back into the fold, there’s also the fact we looked a far more solid proposition when Conor McLaughlin slotted into the defence on Saturday.

Such changes would, of course, mean moving the likes of Luke O’Nien or, more likely, former Wigan captain Max Power into a more familiar midfield role. As admirably as the latter has performed at right-back over the past few months, what we do gain from him there – namely the ability to get forward and put good balls into the box – was always going to be absent when playing in a back three. Elsewhere, Jordan Jones’ omission from the starting line-up was an eyebrow raiser at the weekend. He has proved a cut above this level in almost all his appearances so far.

To put it bluntly, we can’t fuck around now. We’ve been one of the best sides in this division for the past few months and have no reason to fear anyone. But if we don’t beat Wigan on Tuesday night then our automatic promotion hopes will start fading fast.

We’ve got bigger tests to come than this one, so nothing less than a win will suffice.

Matt Wilson