Ahead of Southampton's EFL Cup clash with Sunderland, we got the lowdown on the Black Cats from experienced reporter Graeme Anderson.
Can you sum up the season so far and the mood at Sunderland?
So far, the season has been a disaster, apart from the League Cup. Other than that, they’ve yet to win. I think the defeat to West Ham made it officially the worst ever start to a Premier League season for Sunderland, and they’ve had some bad ones. The mood is about as low as it can go, in terms of the fans’ feelings. Given the fact that, historically, they’ve had these terrible starts for the last four or five seasons, it’s kind of like Groundhog Day for the fans, although this time probably worse than before.
How is the team playing right now?
They’ve played well in patches, and that’s been half the problem. They don’t seem capable of putting together a complete 90 minutes. It isn’t as though they’re abject. They do actually play quite well in patches, but they don’t seem to be able to do it consistently over 90 minutes. There’s a feeling there’s always a mistake just waiting to happen, even when they are playing well, and they’re kind of finding new ways to lose – the Crystal Palace game where they were 2-0 up and lost with virtually the last kick of the game springs to mind, then against West Ham they get to the finish line and, again, last kick of the game they get beat. That’s a pattern, rather than a fluke. It speaks to lapses in concentration and it speaks to nerves.
How are Sunderland viewing the EFL Cup?
Increasingly important, I think. It’s not the biggest issue in the grand scheme of things, but it’s that one bright spot they’ve had so far. Especially in this competition, you can fairly quickly get to the interesting stage, and that’s where we are with both teams this week. If you get through this one, you’re in the last eight. I think Sunderland will still be hoping they can use this to kind of kick-start things. They need wins, so I don’t think anyone is writing off this competition. I think there’s a sense if they can get a victory from the Southampton game that might just lead onto a good run of two or three games.
What sort of a team and approach do you expect from Sunderland?
I think they can’t do anything other than field a strong team. The first-round they fielded a stronger team than you would expect under normal circumstances against Shrewsbury, and I think that was done because, again, they needed a win and senior players involved. They were slightly weaker in the following one, but I think this time David Moyes will be looking to put a strong side out.
I don’t see it as one of those that he writes off, even with three games in the week for Sunderland. I think Jordan Pickford will certainly start in goal. The big question will be whether he starts with Jermain Defoe. He’s about the only regular goalscorer they’ve got, so he faces a decision with him. He could maybe play the young striker Joel Asoro, or give Victor Anichebe a run-out. Certainly, it’s a game he will be taking seriously.
Who would you say will be key for Sunderland on Wednesday night?
If we start at the back, Pickford has been in really good form, despite all these defeats, so I think he will be a key player for Sunderland. Obviously, away from home they’re going to be under pressure, and if they’re going to nick it then Pickford will be a key player. By the same token, they’ve just welcomed back big centre-half Lamine Koné. He’s a presence in both boxes and he will certainly improve Sunderland.
Who will be dangerous at the other end of the pitch? Defoe if he starts will clearly be the danger man. Patrick van Aanholt as well, the left back, has just returned to the side. He’s more of a wing-back than a left-back – he’s a goalscoring threat, but he can also be a defensive liability, because he is a wing-back really, rather than a defender. I would expect him to have a part to play in the game one way or the other.