We continue our count down to this weekends game, with our own away visit. The guys over at Roker Report, are great, one of out own SB Nation sites, and I am glad to say that Dan Williams has supplied me with some answers to my questions ahead of this weekends game.
I believe much like me you will find is answers cover a lot of what you want to know about how Sunderland are viewing their season so far, what they expect of it, and of us come this weekend.
1. Draw, Draw and even another Draw. You have yet to win a game this season, yet nor have you lost one. What do you put that down to? Have you been playing well, or have you struggled in one aspect of your play this season?
There is no doubt that it's been frustrating so far this season, but when you take into account that we've played three away games (Arsenal, Swansea and West Ham) and only one at home to Liverpool, after our clash with Reading was called off, it's difficult to look at that list and be too disappointed. What is annoying, is that we led in each game barring Arsenal, even twice against Swansea, but have been unable to hold onto those leads. Once we get in front, we seem to be happy to just sit back and try to absorb pressure, which, obviously, hasn't worked too well. In each game so far, we've conceded the lion's share of possession, happy to try and catch teams on the break, but I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't like to see us try and push on more and impose ourselves on games more. What is encouraging is that we're scoring goals, and importantly the first one in games.
2. You have brought in two quality players this summer in Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher, are they the big changes you needed to your side? If so how will they change your fortunes this season?
Everyone was delighted when we managed to bring in those two players, and while Fletcher provided a feeling of relief after we chased him for the whole summer, Johnson caught a few fans by surprise, as he really is something of a 'marquee' signing.
While a lot of people were quick to throw their opinion into the mix about how much Fletcher cost Sunderland, we have been crying out for a natural goalscorer since Darren Bent decided that the grass was greener in Birmingham, and were often frustrated last season to see Nicklas Bendtner nobbing about on the halfway line, rather than providing a threat in the box, like Fletcher already has. £12m may sound like a lot of money, but in today's market it really isn't, and a return of four goals in his first three games shows exactly why O'Neill was desperate to land his man. Fraizier Campbell has never been a natural predator (although that might be down to Steve Bruce's insistence on playing him on the wing), Connor Wickham is still a young lad with raw talent, and Ji isn't necessarily physically cut out for the Premier League yet, so Fletcher was essential to our plans for the season.
Johnson seemed like the 'missing piece' when he signed. A lot of last season's success was built on the explosive impact that James McClean had on Sunderland's left wing, but with Seb Larsson on the right hand side, we were never going to be able to replicate the Irishman's energy on both flanks. Johnson may have solved that problem. Although injury has robbed him of any league action - he should be in the team on Saturday - everyone knows that he is a clever player, capable of a hatful of tricks with pace to burn, and him coming on from the right wing, or indeed switching with McClean and starting on the left, should cause most teams in this division problems.
3. Martin O'Neil has come in and more or less turned your club around. What has been the major change that he has made to the club and the playing style?
Under O'Neill's predecessor Steve Bruce, who you will of course know well, we never really seemed to have a set plan at all. If things weren't going well, then he would throw on every striker that we have, often having them replace the midfield players that would be supplying them with chances. And, if we went behind, you could be pretty sure that we wouldn't be getting back into the game. Although he still insists that he was sacked because of where he was born, it was actually because we had only won something like four games in the calendar year, and he had lost the faith of almost every single fan in the Stadium of Light.
What Martin O'Neill has done has create a very clear plan. We're happy to sit back and concede possession to the opponent, but will look to break at speed when we do win the ball back. With McClean, Johnson, Sessegnon and Fletcher as an attacking four, we have the parts to fit the system, and although it does depend on our defence doing their job properly, it is starting to bear fruit.
4. Do you feel that Europe is a realistic target this year? If not where do you think you will finish this season?
I think I speak for most Sunderland fans when I say that we would be over the moon with finishing in the European places, but it might be a step too far this season. Most of us would be happy with a top-ten finish, and anything higher than that would be a bonus, if only to use against Steve Bruce who still loves to claim that he 'took us to the top ten' (on the last game of the season, thanks to a whole world of other results falling in our favour.
However, I do think that Europe may be a possibility through the cup competitions. O'Neill has a real pedigree when it comes to the cups, and we reached the semi final of the FA Cup last season, only to be drawn against Everton, a huge bogey team for us. O'Neill has already signalled his intent by playing a strong team in both rounds of the League Cup so far, and I genuinely think that we have a chance in both this time around.
5. What are your memories of this weekends encounter, have their been some games that really stick out in your mind? If so was it for the right reason, or all the wrong ones?
Obviously both of last season's encounters were pretty memorable. The first at the SOL was the nail in Bruce's coffin, as we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, while our 4-0 win at your place, in hurricane conditions, was a superb performance by our lads, and contained some magnificent goals.
We've also won the league at Wigan in the past, with Marcus Stewart scoring the winner, so that will always be a fantastic memory for us in regards to Wigan, and there was the infamous 'mudslide' game in the 80s. I'm too young to have been at that encounter, but this YouTube video pretty much sums it up.
Sunderland vs Wigan 1988 (via bluehand1969)
6. How do you think the game will be played out? And what will the result will be?
Like I said, Sunderland are now always content to sit back, soak up pressure and then break quickly. We haven't played a game yet this season that we have dominated possession in, including MK Dons in the cup on Tuesday. So, it would be fair to expect us to set up the same way again.
We will miss Lee Cattermole in the middle of the park, and you know better than most how good he can be, but unfortunately his indiscipline has robbed us of his services for three matches, although in Jack Colback we have a magnificent prospect in the middle of the park. Hopefully Adam Johnson will be fit, having got 90 minutes under his belt in the League Cup, and Steven Fletcher will be back in the team after sitting that game out for a well-deserved rest.
I honestly think that our attacking foursome will have too much for you, and Sessegnon is due a performance. If he chooses Saturday for it, then one of the most exciting players that I have ever seen in the red and white stripes could cause you no end of problems. I'll go for a 2-1 win.
7. Now for the Pie Eaters Footie special, what is your favourite flavoured pie?
Interesting question. My answer is three-fold.
The best pie that I ever had was in an Australian pie shop in London. It was minted lamb and mashed potato (all within the pie) - and it was one of the finest things I have ever tasted. If we're talking about everyday life, then steak, ale and mushroom would have to be the winner, and at a match, I'm rather fond of chicken balti to warm up those long, cold winter afternoons.