Sunderland and their fans face one of the longest trips in English football this weekend; a 676-mile round trip to Portsmouth as they go head to head with their fellow promotion favourites. Portsmouth currently top League One with the Black Cats lying in third. However, the men from Wearside have two games in hand and a positive result against Pompey will put pressure on the current leaders.
Portsmouth v Sunderland
McLaughlin and James Fit
Some good news came out of Sunderland this week when it was announced that goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin would be fit to play. The Scotland international went off last weekend during the win over Bristol Rovers. He suffered from a back spasm and was a doubt. Jack Ross confirmed that his number one would be fine to play after training this week.
Another player cleared to play is left-back Reece James. The defender was injured in the warm-up to last week’s victory and missed the whole game. James has been battling it out with Bryan Oviedo for the left-back spot this season and could return to the starting lineup.
Ross Happy With Season So Far
Sunderland manager Jack Ross is rightly happy with how this season is going so far. With new owners, manager, staff and a host of new players, the Black Cats under Ross’ guidance have hit the ground running. “To only lose one game in 20 in the league is a good record, that air of optimism around the place, we have managed to harness that and we can continue to grow it.”
Ross admits that although this is a big game it won’t define the season. With more than half the season to go, there are a lot of points to play for.
Pompey Boss Agrees With Counterpart
Kenny Jacket, Portsmouth’s manager, agrees with Jack Ross. This is, of course, a big game but when you are battling to gain promotion few aren’t big games. “It’s no more important than we travel away to Gillingham and Fleetwood next week – those three points are there for everybody. You have to be on it every day and I have to say that our group have been consistent in their approach.”
Portsmouth’s form has stuttered slightly of late. A home loss to Charlton was followed by an away draw at Barnsley. They will, of course, be looking to get back to winning ways ahead of consecutive away games after Christmas.
Due to cup commitments and their recent game at Accrington being abandoned, Sunderland have not played too many league games of late. A hard fought victory over Bristol Rovers last weekend was their first league fixture since they beat Barnsley at the end of November. In the cup competitions, Sunderland progressed in the Checkatrade Trophy but were knocked out of the FA Cup after a replay.
Plan B Coming Soon
Sunderland have gone through the first part of the season with just two strikers. Josh Maja, their leading scorer, and on loan Jerome Sinclair. Chris Maguire has also helped out in that position when needed. However, the Black Cats have recently welcomed back Duncan Watmore and soon, Jack Ross could have summer signing Charlie Wyke back.
Watmore and Wyke are different to Maja and Sinclair giving Jack Ross at least another option. Watmore’s pace will give any defence problems and Wyke is a powerful target man who can hold up the play or flick balls on for midfield runners. Maja and Sinclair have done well so far, especially Maja, but with Ross about to have extra options up front, it could provide him with the extra goals required to clinch automatic promotion.
Sunderland should welcome back Jon McLaughlin and Reece James. However, defender Tom Flanagan is a doubt. Long-term absentees Denver Hume and Donald Love remain on the treatment table.
Portsmouth’s only injury worry is goalkeeper Luke McGee. He is currently recovering from a broken bone in his wrist and won’t be risked.
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