Doncaster Rovers: Sunderland’s ‘quality and spirit’ can see them over the line – the opposition view
The stakes are high as Doncaster Rovers make their first ever trip to Sunderland’s Stadium of Light.
While play-off chasing Rovers hope to keep Peterborough United at arm’s length, Sunderland still have automatic promotion in their own hands - but only just.
The pressure is intensifying on Wearside. We spoke to Richard Mennear of the Sunderland Echo to get the lowdown on the Black Cats.
Q: How would you assess the season so far? Are Sunderland where they were expected to be?
RM: The aim, clearly, this season is to win promotion back to the Championship and Sunderland are well placed heading into their final five games of the season.
Having worked so hard to get back into the top two post-Wembley, they then missed a glorious chance to cement their position in the automatic promotion places, drawing at home to Burton Albion before the chaotic 5-4 defeat at home to Coventry City, five points dropped in the space of five days.
That was disappointing and Sunderland have to quickly dust themselves down and get back to winning ways when Doncaster Rovers visit.
Ultimately, if they win every game, they win promotion. A tough ask, though given the fierce competition this season.
Q: How do you see the race for automatic promotion playing out and would it be a blow for Sunderland if they ended up in the play-offs?
RM: It has been an intense automatic promotion race this season, with several teams strong contenders for the top two spots.
You’d have to say Luton Town look set to win the league, but the race for second is fascinating.
Barnsley and Sunderland have been in and around all season, Portsmouth obviously started strongly but then fell away badly only to see their form return in recent weeks. They have a strong chance of getting second, with the dark horses Charlton Athletic also in with a shout.
Would it be a blow for Sunderland? It would be given how much of a lottery the play-offs are, but they have proved they have the quality and spirit needed this season to get the job done.
Q: What sort of impression has Jack Ross made as manager?
RM: Very impressive. Ross hadn’t managed in England before so it was a gamble by the new owners but he has really impressed, his recruitment, man management, tactics and the way he speaks have seen the fans take to him straight away.
He is very ambitious and said from day one he wanted to win the league title, Sunderland may fall short of that but fans would settle for promotion.
Ross also led the club to a Wembley final in his first season in charge, he looks to have a big future.
Q: What system and style of play does Ross favour?
RM: He has mixed between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2 in recent months, playing the latter post-Wembley.
However, Sunderland were far too open against Coventry City playing 4-4-2 so a change in tactics seems inevitable.
Ross likes to play high up the pitch, getting the ball early to the wide men.
It can leave them exposed at the back.
Q: Who are the dangermen for Sunderland?
RM: Aiden McGeady, if fit, is Sunderland’s key man.
He has been struggling with a foot injury and only came on as a sub against Coventry, he hadn’t trained though and clearly he was struggling a bit.
Lee Cattermole’s return would also be key, while Will Grigg and Charlie Wyke have struck a good partnership in recent weeks.