Only a month after meeting in a pre-season friendly that surprisingly wasn’t cancelled after the draw for the EFL Cup First Round was made, Simon Grayson’s Sunderland once again make the trip down south to
Gigg Lane The Energy Check Stadium at Gigg Lane as it known as from today. This time of course, the Black Cats have a certain James Vaughan in their ranks and he is sure to receive an excellent welcome from the home support on national television. A huge flag will also be donated to the family of the late Bradley Lowery tomorrow evening, which has helped to engender (and renew) lots of goodwill between the two sets of fans, which stretches back as far as 1999 when the visitors clinched the second tier title in a thrilling 5-2 encounter and again, many of the Shakers’ spectators applauded their opponents after the match.
18 years on (with a home triumph in the EFL Cup in 2006 before Roy Keane took charge), the two sides meet once more with the television cameras present. Of admittedly little relevance, Bury won their opening league game 1-0 against Walsall despite missing two penalties and the visitors were perhaps unfortunate not to win in their Friday night clash with Derby County, having to settle for a 1-1 draw in the end. The performance was largely encouraging for the long-suffering contingent in Wearside and, with an eye on Sunday’s game with highly fancied Norwich City, Grayson is likely to make a number of changes to the starting lineup:
Using the Roker Report’s excellent piece as a guide for how the away team should look, it is apparent even at first glance that their squad isn’t as large as was certainly in the case in recent seasons and with a number of injuries to factor in, some of the players pick themselves. Robbin Ruiter should be handed his competitive debut for the club and an encouraging outing will provide his manager with plenty of food for thought, especially when taking into consideration the mixed display Jason Steele had under the floodlights last week.
Everton loanee Brendan Galloway will give his side plenty of thrust down the left and should be mirrored on the opposite flank by Adam Matthews. If Lee Clark decides to have a narrow midfield, they could have plenty of opportunities to get forward. Tyias Browning will offer the pace his partner John O’Shea simply hasn’t got when dealing with Bury’s attacks but as a pair, they will lap up high balls that come their way.
Didier Ndong is certainly one of the best central midfielders outside the top flight (providing he isn’t shooting from range). He will be looking to wrestle possession and advance a decent distance with the ball, recycling it at times to Jack Rodwell and out wide, especially to Wahbi Khazri. If Aiden McGeady is rested, the Tunisian international is by the far most dangerous player in a red and white striped shirt; he can operate with consummate ease anywhere behind the forwards, is lethal from set pieces and will undoubtedly prove to be a major headache for Craig Jones all night. His off-the-ball skills are almost as impressive and he will be the one Grayson looks to to create an opening.
Rodwell is a bit of an enigma but should have some time and space to make himself useful. On the other hand, he has a tendency to dive into tackles he has little chance of winning, so if he gets an early yellow card, expect him to be substituted before he is targetted for a second one. On the right, George Honeyman will seek to continue his encouraging start to 2017/2018. Whilst less explosive than Khazri, he has a good work ethic and a penchant for popping up in the channel in a pocket of space.
Josh Maja, who did so brilliantly in the exhibition match, is unlikely to make the bench, so the forward line is likely to still be James Vaughan and Lewis Grabban. Grabban will sit centrally and use his strength to back into Tom Aldred, pushing the defensive line deeper. He is adept at dribbling and won’t need many chances to score. Obviously, Vaughan’s attributes are well-known and he will be desperate to get off the mark. He will use his knowledge of how Bury are likely to set up to his advantage but there is a small chance that eagerness will make him less effective, particularly if he takes up similar positions as he did against Derby.
The injured Jay O’Shea aside, Clark could persist with the same XI that started at the weekend. New signing Harry Bunn is likely to be on the left and Chris Maguire on the right. As stated above, Jones is likely to be occupied all night but if he can break forward, he should have an array of options to aim for. The defensive instructions elsewhere should be fairly similar, especially with Ndong sitting deep when he doesn’t have the ball. A lot of the onus will be on Bunn to escape Matthews’ attentions and ensure that Nicky Ajose is involved to a much greater extent than he was on the previous occasion. His pace, along with Jermaine Beckford’s, could hurt the Black Cats if they can get in behind O’Shea. The other weapon in the Shakers’ arsenal will be Maguire’s free kicks, which have already borne fruit.
As for a prediction, I think it will go the distance and into extra time. Grayson is more limited than Clark in who he can bring off the subs’ bench to affect proceedings in a positive manner but I still think they’ll just have the edge. Khazri could put himself in the shop window with a stand-out turn and I think he’ll have the running of Jones, which there is no shame in whatsoever for the latter. To that end, I’m going for a 2-1 defeat that is sealed right at the death (before Maguire and Beckford have the chance to atone!).