A key man missing in defence, the manager of the month curse and fan grumbles – a look at Sunderland ahead of Town clash
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Ipswich Town head to promotion rivals Sunderland this weekend with the pressure mounting on both sides as the season approaches its crescendo. Mark Heath takes a look at state of play at the Stadium of Light.
Story so far
Mighty Sunderland, arguably the biggest club in League One, had been slumbering this season under the stewardship of former Town target Jack Ross, having missed out on promotion straight back to the Championship last campaign.
Like a shark smelling blood in the water though, they have been roused of late by new boss Phil Parkinson, who took over last October.
He struggled initially, enduring a run of just two wins in his first nine league games, but since then the Black Cats have bared their claws, going unbeaten for nine matches - five of which were wins - and climbing into sixth spot before last Saturday's 2-0 loss to fellow promotion hopefuls Pompey. That good run was enough to see Parkinson named League One manager of the month today - and we all know what that means for the next game!
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Sunderland currently sit seventh in the table, with the stingiest defence in League One.
Behind the scenes though, you sense that a crisis is never far away - the club is currently up for sale and fans are voicing concerns about potentially missing out on promotion for a second straight season. If Town can start this clash well, it's possible that the home faithful will soon be grumbling.
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Sunderland lost one of their star men in the January transfer window, midfielder Aiden McGeady departing for Championship strugglers Charlton.
They brought in Josh Scowen from QPR though, plus strikers Kyle Lafferty and Antoine Semenyo, and Swansea full-back Declan John.
They will be missing a key man in defence for Town's visit, with centre back Joel Lynch having been knocked unconscious and suffering knee and rib injuries in last week's defeat at Pompey, while forward Charlie Wyke is also a doubt with a shoulder problem.
The aforemtioned Lafferty is in line to make his first Sunderland start, having played in a behind closed doors practice game this week.
And striker Will Grigg - remember when he was on fire? - may also come back into contention having largely struggled since making the move to Sunderland, scoring just eight times in 48 games.
Ones to watch
The talk among Sunderland fans, even during their good run, was that the team are far too reliant on two men to score their goals.
Those two gents are Chris Maguire and Lynden Gooch and, if teams manage to shut them down, it seems that the Black Cats are struggling for a plan B.
Maguire is vital to Sunderland's success, having scored nine goals and added six assists, while Gooch has chipped in with seven strikes.
The now-departed McGeady will be missed, having scored six from midfield.
Wyke, who may or may not play, has found the net five times.
On his strikers choice, Parkinson said: "Kyle played 45 minutes at Portsmouth and had another 45-minute practice game on Tuesday as well. Griggy played in that as well, scored a goal and did well.
"Charlie's injury has got better as the week has gone. We were concerned earlier in the week and it was a heavy fall, but he has got better as the week has gone on.
"We've got other options and we'll weigh those up."
Of the selection dilemma in defence caused by Lynch's injuries, he added: "Tom (Flanagan) has done well in that position so there'd be no hesitation in putting him in. He was probably unfortunate not be starting anyway because if we go back a bit, there were a couple of home games where he's scored a goal and put in very good performances.
"He's been training well so he's ready."
According to Oddschecker, 68% of bets placed on the game so far have been on a Town win.
Sunderland are the favourites, with the Blues around 3/1 to get the victory at the Stadium of Light.
A draw is priced at around 12/5.
A 1-1 draw is deemed the most likely result at 9/2, with a 1-0 Sunderland win at 5/1. You can get 9/1 if you fancy a 1-0 Town victory.