Opposition View on Doncaster Rovers' next opponents Sunderland

There was a reason Sunderland were selected for a Netflix documentary series – as this week has proven.

Friday, 4th February 2022, 12:42 pm
Jermain Defoe has returned to Sunderland this week
Jermain Defoe has returned to Sunderland this week

Life is rarely quiet on Wearside and this week they have dispensed with manager Lee Johnson following a thumping at the hands of Bolton Wanderers and then brought back club legend Jermain Defoe for one last run leading the line.

All this comes with the Black Cats still in an excellent position in the race for promotion to the Championship.

So how does the land lie at the Stadium of Light? We spoke to the Sunderland Echo’s Phil Smith to get the lowdown.

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Q: How do you assess where Sunderland are at the moment in the promotion race, following the end of the transfer window and the sacking of Lee Johnson?

PS: One win in the last five has without a doubt handed the promotion initiative to Rotherham United and Wigan Athletic.

Sunderland need a really strong run of form now to get back into that top two and that's why they've made the decision to change managers.

They had a solid January window and have brought in some really exciting attacking players, but there are some concerns over their depth in defensive areas.

There's no doubt that there's enough goals in this squad to go up, but the new head coach will need to find a bit more of a balance and some more consistency.

Q: What are the strengths on the pitch?

PS: Their main strengths would definitely be through the final third.

Ross Stewart is top of the goalscoring charts but is an outstanding all-round striker who has regularly been praised by opposition managers.

With Alex Pritchard fit again the options behind him are also very strong, no matter who ends up being in charge of the game.

Particularly on home turf, they are very difficult to defend against and the pressing from the front is good.

Q: And the weaknesses?

PS: Defensively they are definitely not as strong as some of the other automatic promotion contenders, and that was borne out in the 6-0 win that ultimately led to Lee Johnson's departure.

They do give up chances and at times, they can wilt under pressure from physical, direct teams.

I would say, though, that has only really happened away from home so far this season, at least for the most part.

Q: Not the easiest question given the absence of a manager, but how do you expect Sunderland to approach Saturday's game?

It's a squad built to play a high-pressing game with plenty of flair in possession and the January signings have only reinforced that, so whoever is in charge, you will see a very similar style to the performance at Doncaster earlier this season, I would imagine.

Q: Who are the players to watch out for?

Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts both looked bright when coming off the bench even in that heavy defeat at Bolton, and they could be very difficult to defend against if they come up against tiring legs in the closing stages.

All eyes will of course be on Jermain Defoe and whether he can make his second debut, but as I've said before, Ross Stewart is the star of this side in both his finishing and his defending from the front.

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In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Liam Hoden, editor.