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Match Preview: Sunderland vs Dale
Monday, 10th Feb 2020 18:24 by AtThePeake

After picking up a handy point on the road at Doncaster on Saturday, can Dale avoid defeat against Sunderland for the first time in their history on Tuesday night?

Date: Tuesday 11th February
Kick-off: 7.45pm
Venue: Stadium of Light
And breathe. Points are being picked up, players are back from injury, Rathbone, Camps, Henderson et al remain at Spotland until the end of the season at least... things are looking up.

By no means can Dale fans now assume the season is over and that any threat of relegation has completely disappeared, not least with a huge six-pointer against Tranmere Rovers coming up on Saturday afternoon, but worries of dropping into the bottom three are surely not quite as prominent now as they were perhaps two weeks ago for supporters.

A win over Shrewsbury last weekend stretched Dale's unbeaten home run to four games in all competitions which, although hardly stunning form, is a welcome return following the winless home run that came before the victory to Bolton Wanderers last month.

And that late victory over Sam Rickett's side was followed up with a hard-fought point from a tough trip to Doncaster on Saturday. Having lost 5-0 at the Keepmoat Stadium last term and having gone a goal down within the first minute of the game this time around, everyone perhaps feared the worst from this trip come 3.02pm on Saturday afternoon.

However, a terrific strike from Ollie Rathbone with ten minutes remaining on the clock earned Dale a terrific point on the road and that point proves even more valuable looking at other results. Tranmere, Southend and Bolton were all beaten, whilst Shrewsbury and MK Dons played out a draw and Accrington Stanley had no game.

Matt Lund made his second debut for the club in that game and it seemed to be one of the strongest sides that Dale have put out all season, with only a couple of players missing through injury. It remains to be seen if any other problems have risen in the last few days or if those that have missed out recently are now back to full fitness, with Ryan McLaughlin and Callum Camps both missing out on the squad once again in South Yorkshire.

Whilst it wouldn't be wise for Dale to approach this game as a 'free hit', it is fair to say that outside of the club, nobody will be expecting us to take anything from this fixture. Sunderland were pre-season favourites for promotion, are the biggest club in the division, and appear to be in better form at the moment than they have been through the majority of the campaign.

It's also fair to say that whilst victory in this game would be a pleasant surprise, a victory in Saturday's fixture against Tranmere Rovers is something we should be targeting and would really open up a gap from the relegation zone, given that the Whites currently occupy the final relegation spot in the table.

Having lost 4-1 at the Stadium of Light last season with over 1,000 away supporters travelling to the North East, Dale will hope to enjoy this occasion a little more and if they perform as they have done in their two narrow home defeats to the Black Cats since that loss last September, there's no reason we can't cause an upset in this one.

Sunderland are the latest of several former Premier League clubs to have dropped into League One and to have found it slightly harder than expected to kickstart a resurgence back up to the top tier of English football.

The Black Cats struggled for consistency last season, eventually losing the play-off final to Charlton Athletic in a replay of the famous second-tier play-off final of the 1990s between the two famous clubs. Jack Ross was always likely to be under pressure following his failure to get the club up last term and he didn't last too long this season before being replaced by Phil Parkinson, who has won promotion from this division before with both Colchester United and Bolton Wanderers.

Parkinson's style of play is well known at this level and it didn't appear to be working too well in the early stages of his tenure. The Black Cats struggled to get themselves up the table and appeared to be destined for another year in the third tier, until a recent upturn in form has seen them surge up the table into play-off contention.

After a pivotal win over Ipswich Town, another former Premier League outfit on the verge of the top six, this weekend, the Wearsiders find themselves in sixth place, and with just five points separating them from Wycombe Wanderers, who currently sit in the second automatic promotion spot, it's clear what the aim will be for Parkinson and his side over the remainder of the current campaign.

With players like Aiden McGeady, Grant Leadbitter and Kyle Lafferty, the Black Cats have experience with players who have plied their trade for much of their career at a higher level than this - but they are supplemented by quality players at the peak of their powers now, such as Lynden Gooch and Luke O'Nien and frankly, it's a surprise that they're as low as sixth given the quality that's in this squad.

They won't expect to be as low as sixth come the end of the season, but can Dale take advantage of their inconsistent nature to take an unexpected point or three from this trip to the impressive Stadium of Light on Tuesday night?
_________ _______________________________________________________________

Ipswich Town (h) - WIN
Portsmouth (a) - LOSS
Tranmere Rovers (a) - WIN
Doncaster Rovers (h) - DRAW
Milton Keynes (a) - WIN

Doncaster Rovers (a) - DRAW
Shrewsbury Town (h) - WIN
Milton Keynes (a) - LOSS
Gillingham (h) - DRAW
Wycombe Wanderers (a) - LOSS

22 Sep 2018 - Sunderland 1-4 Rochdale - League One
06 Apr 2019 - Rochdale 1-2 Sunderland - League One
20 Aug 2019 - Rochdale 1-2 Sunderland - League One

Photo: Action Images

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