Sunderland v Walsall – Sunderland AFC

Sunderland v Walsall - Sunderland AFC

Scout report: Return of boyhood Newcastle United fan could spell trouble for Sunderland against Walsall

The two sides have already met three times this season and the Black Cats have failed to win any of the fixtures, recording two draws and a loss.

These games came within three weeks of each other, with Walsall knocking Sunderland out of the FA Cup in the second round.

Kicking off at 3pm, the Black Cats face a Saddlers side who theyve failed to beat in three attempts so far this season but knowing they cant afford to lose any ground on the top two sides – Luton Town and Barnsley – if they are to secure an immediate return to the Championship. 

MORE: How Sunderland and their promotion rivals could see their hopes change this weekendThree months since that last meeting between the two, how have the Saddlers fared?

Back-to-back draws – against Wycombe Wanderers and the Tykes – have stretched the lads unbeaten run to 18 games in all competitions, but its meant no ground has been made up on the automatic places. 

There has been a lot of tactical changes over the last few weeks in Walsalls squad but they seem to have finally settled on a 4-3-3.

They will try to combat what we do well and then it is just about finding ways of doing what we do well to the best of our abilities or find different ways to win games. 

The system sees wingers Josh Gordon and Zeli Ismail on either side of Morgan Ferrier who leads the line. Ferrier may drop out on Saturday, though, with top scorer Andy Cook set to return from suspension.

Griggs goal in the Checkatrade Trophy semi final at Bristol Rovers was his first from open play since making the deadline day switch from Wigan Athletic, but he has been starved of service in the following two games.

READ: Jack Ross on bringing out Will Griggs best and whether Luke ONien could be the solutionThe boyhood Newcastle United fan has proven a big miss for the Saddlers in recent weeks having netted 16 times this season and his return may spell trouble for the Black Cats backline.

Since switching to the formation at the start of march they have had mixed results, winning once and drawing once before losing 3-2 to Portsmouth on Tuesday evening.

It wasnt an easy game to play in, particularly for a striker to deal with balls that were either underhit or overhit because of the wind.

The club have also favoured a 4-4-2 with deeper midfielders in 2019 in a setup which resembles a 4-2-2-2.

Match Preview – Sland vs Walsall | 16 Mar 2019

Ismail has been a revelation this year at Bankss Stadium. The winger has played 31 times this season including 25 in the league.

“We went into the Portsmouth game full of confidence, we had been on a good run – getting seven points from nine,” Dobson told Express & Star.

The Black Cats currently sit third in League One, four points behind the top two of Barnsley and Luton Town, having played a game less than their promotion rivals.

And Ross is keen to praise the form of the two teams directly above his Sunderland side – which he believes indicates that the Wearsiders have had only a decent campaign in the third tier.

Fresh in his memory is one of Sunderlands best performances this season, comfortably beating an in-form Plymouth Argyle in the last game at the Stadium of Light.

When youre in a league where the team at the top is in the best run of form in the clubs history, you have to hold your hands up, its unfortunate for us but theres not a lot you can do about it.

They will have two games in hand on Barnsley, who face what, on paper at least, is a tough challenge away to Doncaster Rovers on Friday night.

Barnsleys [unbeaten] run, I dont where it stands in terms of their history but it must be up there.

Regardless of what happens at the Keepmoat Stadium, Ross says it is imperative to enter a long break from league action on a high.

Then you throw ours in there, which is December, its not bad, it just happens that there are other teams in the league [doing well].

A score draw last Saturday at Wycombe Wanderers was followed by a goalless stalemate at promotion rivals Barnsley in midweek, with Jack Ross side now back on home turf to ramp up the pressure on the top two as we head into the home straight.

We talk about tracking points, if you look at other leagues [in the EFL], we would be there or thereabouts as well.

Saturdays opponents, Walsall, head to Wearside having recorded just three wins in their previous 17 matches. Spiralling down the table, the Saddlers sit 19th and just four points above the red zone, with nine games left. 

A draw at Barnsley leaves Sunderland somewhat reliant on other results in the final ten games of the campaign – but Ross insists it is dramatic to say that his sides fate is out of their own hands.

Dean Keates can take heart from his sides upturn in form in recent weeks, though, having taking seven points from a possible 12 – losing their last fixture at home to promotion-chasing Portsmouth.

With just under a quarter of the campaign still to play, he knows the Black Cats have positioned themselves well for a late promotion push.

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