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Max Power was the culprit last time out. It didn't cost any points but it still provided a nervy finish to a game which, up to that point, Sunderland had largely dictated. Luckily the lads saw the game out thanks to another penalty save from Jon McLaughlin and some commited work from those left on the pitch.
After a host of international call ups Sunderland earned themselves a well deserved breather last weekend, with the Blackpool game being rearranged for a later date. This gave Jack Ross time to assess his options after a host of injuries to key players and Power and Oviedo currently serving match bans.
This Saturday sees Sunderland on the road with their usual mighty away following. Shrewsbury are hosts and they'll be the latest side to try and replicate a result which so far only Burton Albion have achieved. A win against Wearsiders.
What's the story so far?
Sunderland were impressive against Bradford City, with Aiden McGeady in particular causing all kinds of hell for the home side. It wasn't long before Josh Maja steered a Lee Cattermole volley into the back of the net for his ninth of the season. It was no surprise that the goal came from a McGeady cross.
O'Connor replied for the hosts early in the second half after a long throw found him 6 yards from the line, McLaughlin didn't stand a chance. Jack Baldwin then bagged his first goal in red and white, finishing with a neat half volley after a Maguire free kick. Up to this point Sunderland were playing free flowing football and the fans were enjoying the display of attacking football on show. This came to an abrupt end when Power's frustrations at being trodden on bubbled over and he kicked out towards a Bradford player, resulting in a straight red.
McLaughlin saved the day, literally, denying a Jack Payne penalty to ensure Sunderland left with the 3 points.
Shrewsbury on the other hand have seen a tough start to the season after Paul Hurst left to manage Ipswich. They've only won two games under new boss John Askey, who perhaps needs time to settle after his move following the excellent work he did at Macclesfield where he won the National League title.
They lost away to Joey Barton's Fleetwood Town who gave Sunderland a stern test at the Stadium of Light in September. Fleetwood's attacking players broke through the Shrews back three with alarming ease, seeing two goals from Paddy Madden and Wes Burns by half time. Askey switched to his more familiar 4-3-3 for the second half and his side were much more competitive, nabbing a goal through Josh Laurent in the 57th minute.
Jack Ross is weary of a Salop side who were in excellent form last season and possess a talented squad of players despite a poor run of results. He's also well aware that his side will again be seen as a scalp to claim.
“I think they’ll be frustrated that they have managed to quite continue that momentum from last season, but equally they’re still a good side.
“They proved that with the success they had last year over the course of the season, so it’s another difficult game for us, every single game is.
“I think there’s probably two sides of looking at it [the international break].
“We were obviously in a decent vein of form and started to build a little bit of momentum, but equally we were going to be without important players.
“We go into an important week knowing that if we continue in the manner of the performances that we have done, and keep producing positive results, then we’re going to stay at least where we are and hopefully then progress upwards again.
“Selling out our allocation is an outstanding show of loyalty, but as always, it brings a greater intensity to the game and creates that almost cup-tie environment.
“So, we expect that Saturday to begin with and obviously Tuesday when it comes around“
Askey expects his players to rise to the occasion of playing a big side and the added bonus of a bumper crowd to entertain.
“It’s a game that supporters and players are looking forward to. But for us it’s just another game, that’s what players have got to realise.
“We’ve got to go out there, stop them playing and play ourselves.
“If we start thinking they’re better than what they are then we’ll have problems.
“It’s not as though they’re going home and away and winning four and five every week. They haven’t found it easy.
“As a player this is why you play football, for games like tomorrow.
“I’ll see who can handle it and who can’t. We hope that playing in front of a big crowd makes players play better.”
What could go down?
Sunderland are depleted by injuries and bans but Ross still has a pool of players that are fit and talented. Question marks around whether Lynden Gooch should start and who should replace the banned Power will be the biggest issues for Ross. The back four of Flanagan, Baldwin, James and Matthews seems to be finding some cohesion and form defensively.
Ross will be instructing his team to go out and play open, attacking football. Especially against a Shrews side which has only managed 11 goals all season. Expect McGeady to be in the thick of things from the start and Maguire to be his usual industrial self.
Askey will probably go with the 4-3-3 which finished against Fleetwood. As the search goes on for a goal scorer, a solid passing game will be used to feed anyone in a dangerous position for the home side. Lee Angol is top scorer this season with four but doesn't always start for unknown reasons. They also managed to hang-on to talented winger Shaun Walley who bagged a whole host of goals and assists last season and seems to be finding some form lately.
I really want McLaughlin to get a clean sheet because the Scottish international deserves one after his outstanding form so far. I'm going for Sunderland 2-0, Maja to get his tenth of the season and big bad Jon to get only his second clean sheet.