Both Sunderland and Plymouth come into this encounter at the Stadium of Light in fantastic form. The hosts have lost just twice all season, going on a 12-match unbeaten run whilst Argyle have lost just once during their nine games in 2019. Three points for Jack Ross’ side gives them the potential to leapfrog Barnsley into the automatic promotion places whilst the same outcome for Derek Adams’ men would give them further breathing space from the relegation zone.
Forward Will Grigg will remain up top for Sunderland. The 27-year-old has only scored once in five appearances since his £4m move from Championship side Wigan.
Lynden Gooch looks set to return to the side. The winger missed the 2-0 victory over Bristol Rovers last weekend with a minor injury but is thought to be fully fit for the visit of Argyle.
Defender Donald Love will return to the Sunderland matchday squad. The former Manchester United man hasn’t featured since the Black Cats’ 1-1 draw with Oxford in September.
Defender Bryan Oviedo and winger Chris Maguire have both been confirmed as absentees through injury.
Predicted Line-Up (4-2-3-1)
James, Dunne, Flanagan, O’Nien
McGeady, Honeyman, Gooch
Style of Play
In a 4-2-3-1 formation, Sunderland place a lot of emphasis on getting the ball out to the wings. The likes of Aiden McGeady and Lyden Gooch making surging runs down the wing, utilising their pace to get down the byline and cut the ball back into the box for forward Will Grigg. The pair have been in great form, recording a combined 28 goals and assists this season (15G, 10A). Whilst Gooch has been somewhat out of form of late, McGeady has scored in each of his last three league matches and also scored a brace in the Black Cats’ 2-0 win at Home Park earlier in the season.
Sunderland’s plethora of attacking talent means that the likes of McGeady and Gooch can be interchanged for equally impressive options such as Duncan Watmore, Chris Maguire and Lewis Morgan. With their sheer pace they are often able to cause lots of problems and going forward as a three they often stretch the opposition defence. McGeady and Gooch found themselves able to do this against Tafari Moore during the reverse fixture earlier in the season to great effect.
Despite the departure of Josh Maja in January, the addition of Will Grigg was a relatively like-for-like replacement. Despite just one goal, a penalty, from his opening five Sunderland appearances he has previously excelled in League One with MK Dons and Wigan previously. Overall, their tally of 59 goals in League One is only bettered by Luton (67).
Sunderland have shown themselves to be very effective from set pieces throughout the season. Their recent encounter with Gillingham was a particularly good example of this with their first two goals coming from corners during their 4-2 win. With Argyle often subject to criticism for their record of conceding from such positions, the back four will have to be on red alert. Whilst already effective from set pieces, the January signing of Grant Leadbitter has strengthened their quality even further with the 33-year-old registering four assists in just six appearances.
Defensively Sunderland have been solid throughout the season, conceding just 32 goals from their 33 league games, a record only bettered by Blackpool and Barnsley (both 28) as well as table-topping Luton (29). They have also lost just twice throughout the season in the league, a record low for the entire Football League aside for Premier League side Liverpool. The full-back pairing of Luke O’Nien and Reece James has proven to be an effective one. The pair both share a high-attacking workrate but with their abundance of pace they are rarely left vulnerable on the counter-attack. The defensive midfield pairing of Lee Cattermole and Grant Leadbitter are able to provide cover in the event they do so. The pair are known for their ball winning qualities in the middle of the pitch and should almost certainly have the edge over an Argyle midfield missing the suspended Antoni Sarcevic.
Aiden McGeady has undoubtedly been the main man for Sunderland since forward Josh Maja’s January move to French side Bordeaux. The 32-year-old has spent most of his career at a higher level which has shown with 10 goals and five assists from just 25 appearances in League One this season.
The former Celtic man can operate on either flank. His pace and driving runs caused problems throughout the 90 minutes with his perseverance rewarded him with both goals in a 2-0 win, albeit the second was from the penalty spot. Due to the array of attacking options in his position, it is testament to McGeady that he has maintained his spot in the side whenever he has been fit to do so.
With just two defeats all season and one of the best defensive records in the division, it’s rather difficult to find a huge amount of fault with Sunderland. However, at times throughout the season they have been punished for a lack of reliable home form. Coming into the fixture, Ross’ side have drawn four of their last six home matches. Whilst these have been to the likes of high flying sides such as Luton, Charlton and an in-form Scunthorpe, you would perhaps expect better considering the resources at their disposal. Whilst they have yet to lose at home, they have drawn eight times in 17 matches at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland have also found themselves guilty of giving away a lot of penalties this season with their tally of 11 ranking them sixth in the division. Of those, they have conceded nine, accounting for almost a quarter of the goals they have let in.
With both sides in good form it should be an exciting encounter. Argyle will have felt that the 2-0 defeat earlier in the season slightly flattered Sunderland. Jack Ross’ side have drawn four of their last six home games in the league, finding it hard to break down sides, like Argyle who will look to sit back and attack on the counter. However, with the plethora or options and quality in the Sunderland side I’m predicting a 2-1 win for the Black Cats.