The Opponent: All About Sunderland

Rory Fallow from Roker Report talks to PompeyNewsNow about Saturday’s massive game against Sunderland

Hugh: Can you tell Pompey fans a little about how you cover Sunderland?

Rory: I have been writing for Roker Report for almost three years now and I am also involved with the Wise Men Say Podcast. Both entities offer a wide range of views on SAFC as well as interviews with various SAFC personalities, including the current owners!

It is a very exciting time to be involved in Sunderland projects. We are winning games, experiencing some new grounds and the current regime is very open and honest. Long may it continue!

Hugh: How long have you been supporting Sunderland and what got you into the Mackems?

Rory: For as long as I can remember! Everyone in my family supports Sunderland so I never had a choice. I grew up in East Durham, which despite being roughly 10 miles outside of Sunderland is still an SAFC stronghold (bar the odd Keegan era mag) and started going to games regularly in 2000.

The first campaign I had a season ticket for was in 2002/03, when we were relegated with 19 points, so that gut-wrenching misery set the tone nicely.

Hugh: It has been a strong start to the season for Sunderland, who have only lost once in the league and currently sit in 3rd in League One. Does this match the fans expectations at the start of the season?

Rory: Pretty much, yeah. Given our squad and the size of the club, we are expecting to be promoted at the first attempt. Anything short of that would be pretty disastrous. I know that sounds arrogant but this is only the second time in our history that we have been in this league so we cannot afford to get stuck here.

I am fairly confident we will meet the lofty expectations though, especially since we’ve only lost once this season. The depth of our squad should really come into play in the New Year as well, as quality players such as Duncan Watmore and Charlie Wyke regain full fitness. I do not think any other teams in League One can rival us when it comes to that.

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Hugh: Apart from Portsmouth and Sunderland, which other teams do you think will contend for the automatic promotion places?

Rory: Luton are flying at the moment and have a strong home record so they will be in the mix. I would expect Barnsley to keep pushing us both as well given their squad, even though they have wobbled a bit lately.

I did not reckon much to Peterborough when we played them a couple of months back so do not see them going up automatically. I was impressed with Charlton on the opening day though so I will be interested to see if they can put a run together in the second half of the season.

Hugh: Josh Maja has 12 goals so far this season, which is joint second in the league. However, I have read some Sunderland fans are unhappy with his all-round game. Are you concerned Maja’s skill set is too one-dimensional?

Rory: Any Sunderland fan who slates him is, quite frankly, an idiot. For his age, Josh Maja is a fantastic player. His movement off the ball and quick feet show just how intelligent he is for such a young player, while his finishing speaks for itself. I do not understand why some of our fanbase love to focus on the things he is not so good at. Yes, he is not brilliant in the air but he makes up for that by dropping deep and always making himself available for a pass to feet, for example.

I would love to see him progress with the club as we look to fight our way back up the divisions. I just hope we can tie him down to a new contract!

Hugh: Who are the main Sunderland players except Maja Pompey fans should worry about?

Rory: We are very strong attacking wise. Lynden Gooch has been a bit iffy lately but he has a great number of goals & assists already this season. It has been great to see Aiden McGeady showing his quality as well after injury meant he was late in starting the season, he has been in devastating form lately. Along with McGeady, Bryan Oviedo brings Premier League levels of class to our side too.

Along with the aforementioned, you will have players like George Honeyman, Lee Cattermole and Max Power grafting themselves into the ground to make sure things are not easy for Portsmouth.

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Hugh: If you could steal two players from the Pompey squad, who would you choose and why?

Rory: Christian Burgess, definitely. I am mainly basing this on the fact that if you paired him and Glenn Loovens together, you would have two centre-halves with devastatingly luscious locks. We also could genuinely do with another defender but that is beside the point.

We could also do with adding some depth at right back so Nathan Thompson would not be a bad shout either!

Hugh: How has Jack Ross set up tactically this season? Would you do anything differently?

Rory: Jack Ross generally sets us up in a very positive manner. He likes us to move the ball quickly and to make the most of our opportunities. If we get into the final third, he encourages the players to then take their time if they must, as he believes that every time we make it that far up the field, we should be creating a chance.

I think he will approach Saturday the same as he has pretty much every game and that is to win. We tend to get more joy against the better sides in the league as they tend to come at us as well, giving us space to exploit. Our recent match against Barnsley was a good example of this, as we went 3-0 up after 32 minutes, so if you play fairly open against us it may just work in our favour.

Hugh: Sunderland is reported to have money to spend in the January transfer window. Where do you see the club strengthening the squad?

Rory: As mentioned before, right back is probably where we lack the most depth. Adam Matthews has been great this season but behind him is Tom Flanagan who is more suited to centre-half and then the injured (and pretty hapless) Donald Love.  The returns of Duncan Watmore and Charlie Wyke will probably mean a striker will not be seen as a priority but Ross still may want to add another in case Maja gets knock.

Any incomings will depend mainly on who leaves the club though. I really like Bryan Oviedo but he is still on big wages and is a Premier League quality player, so it may be best for both parties if he departs. Selling Oviedo could allow us to add depth at the back while also bringing in another forward to add a bit more competition for places.

I just hope we do not sell Lee Cattermole. I will be gutted to lose the Stockton Makelele but, again, higher wages may force the clubs hand.

Hugh: Lastly, what is your match prediction?

Rory: I think it will be high scoring, I just hope we can edge it. A win for us on Saturday will put us in a very strong position given our two games in hand. I will be bold and say a 3-2 win for us!

Check out my article for Roker Report previewing the Sunderland game https://bit.ly/2PNZumI

Hugh Bunce: @puckdropuk

Rory Fallow: @roryfallow

Roker Report: @rokerreport

Feature Image: Joe Pepler

Team and Burgess Image: PompeyNewsNow

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