Sunderland return to League One action this weekend as they head to the Valley to take on Charlton Athletic.
A big game at the sharp end of the table, it should be an entertaining affair and so for the first time in 2019, we spoke to Gary McLaughlin of We Are Wearside to grab his thoughts ahead of the match…
First of all, how would you assess your Christmas period?
Fairly disappointing. I think we’ve underperformed, despite some decent defensive displays. Our attack looks very dynamic on paper but teams set up the same every week against Sunderland. They sit back, double-mark the wingers and Josh Maja and we haven’t figured out the formula to consistently break that down. The return of Charlie Wyke could be the answer, he and Maja looked good together on New Year’s Day against Blackpool.
The other issue we have is in midfield, Max Power and Lee Cattermole struggle out of possession and that puts us on the back foot. Portsmouth are not slowing down, so we need to pick up our performance levels quickly to keep up.
This game is the reverse of the first of the season – how would you assess the club’s progression since the opening day?
Whilst there was plenty of optimism after the ownership change and a positive transfer window, I think we expected to have a slow start to the league. After the crisis campaign last year and the summer upheaval, it’s remarkable how quickly we’ve built a title-challenging side. The club has progressed really well, we just need that little bit extra to close the gap at the top.
Charlton are just a handful of points behind (albeit having played more) what are their main threats?
They have a couple of prolific attackers in Taylor and Ahearne-Grant. They’ve only scored three less goals than us all season so a clean sheet is going to be difficult to achieve. It will be interesting to see how Charlton approach the game, realistically they need to be beating us to push for automatic promotion so perhaps we will see a fairly open game.
Max Power’s stay has been confirmed – how big a positive is that?
It’s a nice positive, though I’m not sure we had much choice in the matter with the summer loan deal. Power can be excellent at this level, though after his suspension issues he is visibly more reserved in games at the moment. We need to see him get that bite back as our midfield is struggling on the back foot with his hesitancy and Lee Cattermole’s lack of pace (though Catts won’t be involved in this one).
I think as long as we don’t concede early this game will be open and that should suit our dynamic attack. 3-1 Sunderland.