|Sunderland 2 v 0 Rochdale|
SkyBet League One
Saturday, 6th March 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Match Preview: Sunderland vs Rochdale
Friday, 5th Mar 2021 17:00 by AtThePeake
In a league fixture that seems unlikely to occur again for quite some time, Rochdale take on Sunderland at the Stadium of Light this Saturday.
Date: Saturday 6th March
For months, many supporters had been clinging on to hope of surviving relegation as the team had somehow kept their heads above water in terms of dropping into the bottom four. After that defeat on Humberside however, Dale have slipped into 23rd place and with a trip to the Stadium of Light on Saturday followed by fixtures against Shrewsbury, Lincoln and Peterborough, things are starting to look rather grim.
With pressure building on Brian Barry-Murphy, you do have to feel a little sorry for him. These tough fixtures have come at the worst possible time, with confidence low and injuries and suspensions piling up - but that hasn't stopped many supporters losing patience with the Dale boss.
With Stephen Humphrys cutting a frustrated, isolated figure as the spearhead of the attack, Kwadwo Baah struggling to influence games like he did in December and January and the likes of Aaron Morley and Gavin Bazunu failing to live up to early season promise, relegation appears to be looming large at this stage of the season.
To touch on those injuries does show the scale of the task that BBM is faced with in simply selecting an XI for this trip to the North-east. Stephen Dooley, Jimmy Ryan, Jack Vale, Jake Beesley and Matt Lund are all expected to remain in the treatment room and frustratingly, these are injuries all concentrated on the midfield and central striker roles, leaving the team looking threadbare in certain areas and perhaps overly-stocked in others.
Not helping matters in the middle of the field, Ollie Rathbone will continue to miss out through suspension after his ridiculous head-butt in last weekend's loss to Burton Albion although Conor Shaugnessy's red card from the Tuesday night defeat at Hull City has since been rescinded.
But frankly, with or without the injuries, there can be little excusing the insipid performances that Dale have continued to produce in recent weeks. Despite going down 2-0 and rarely if ever troubling the opposition keeper, many fans saw Tuesday night's loss to the Tigers as a better display. That's the state we are in right now.
With a disorganised backline, a decimated midfield and a toothless attack, the season only seems to be heading one way and frankly, it's a blessing in disguise that we are unable to attend games at the moment as the atmosphere at Spotland and in the various away ends around the country would likely be nothing short of toxic at this point.
Nobody expects anything from a trip to Sunderland in isolation... but the wider picture is that another showing and result like we've seen recently will see those numbers extend to 1 win in 16 and perhaps even six games without a goal. When is this going to end?
Just a few years later, of course, I would be making the familiar journey to the city to see the two sides play in a league game as Dale had established themselves in the third tier and the Wearsiders had plummeted through the Championship and to the lowest ebb in their history.
Frankly, it's remarkable that a club this size, recently able to attract gates of over 40,000 for marquee Premier League fixtures, is now in it's third season at this level and aren't exactly nailed on for promotion this time around, either. They missed out in the play-off final two years ago and finished 8th on PPG last season.
As things stand, the Mackems find themselves in 4th place in the table, with five points and two places separating them from the automatic spots at the time of writing. With games in hand on Hull City and with current leaders Lincoln struggling for consistency, could this be the season that the Black Cats begin to climb back up the pyramid?
Having grown tired of the more agricultural stylings of Jack Ross and Phil Parkinson, Sunderland have now opted for ex-Oldham and Bristol City manager Lee Johnson and the 39 year old has enjoyed a fine start to life at the Stadium of Light. In the 21 games since his arrival, the Black Cats have lost just three times and have booked yet another trip to Wembley for the Papa John's Trophy final where they will face Keith Hill's Tranmere Rovers later this month.
Although undoubtedly affected by the financial issues caused by COVID-19, the club now find themselves with a new owner in the shape of 23 year old Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and with his backing and a more progressive manager in the dugout, there's a feeling that finally, this historic club could be back on the rise again.
There is plenty of quality in Johnson's squad too, as you might expect. The likes of Grant Leadbitter and Aiden McGeady were one-time Premier League regulars while Lynden Gooch has been a thorn in the side of the Dale backline in every meeting between these sides in the last couple of seasons.
The real man of the moment though is target man Charlie Wyke. After scoring the winner in a narrow win over struggling Swindon Town on Tuesday night, the former Bradford City man is now on 19 goals in just 29 league appearances this season and with McGeady and Gooch supplying the bullets, he will hope to profit from a leaky Dale backline on Saturday afternoon.
With Dale having never beaten the Black Cats before, this may be the last chance they get for quite some time with both teams looking set to potentially leave the division in different directions at the end of this campaign. A shock away win however, would upset the apple cart and perhaps change the fortunes of both teams ahead of what are sure to be nervy run-ins for very different reasons.
22 Sep 2018 - Sunderland 4-1 Rochdale - League One
Photo: Action Images
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