The first round of the EFL Cup is underway, and a match between EFL League One sides Accrington Stanley F.C. and Sunderland A.F.C. will take place at WHAM Stadium in Accrington, England on Tuesday 13 August 2019. It is a match that is between the two most unlikely clubs in League One, but for very different reasons. In some ways, it has become this tier's least expected friendly rivalry between the largest and smallest (at least in terms of stadium capacity) clubs in League One. To give an idea of how fortunes have changed for this pair of sides that hail from two of England's most prominent 19th century industrial hubs, you only have to look back to the turn of this century. 20-years-ago, in the 1999-2000 season, Sunderland finished 7th in the Premier League. Their leading scorer that season was Kevin Phillips, 33rd on the all-time Premier League goals scored list. That same year, Accrington was able to win promotion from Unibond Division 1 (now the Northern Premier League in the 7th tier of English football) with a guy named Gary Williams (who doesn't have a Wikipedia page) as their leading scorer. That season also included crucial goals from John Coleman, who was then in his first year as player-manager.
The footballing history between Accrington and Sunderland dates back nearly 129 years to 18 October 1890, when they played to a 2-2 draw at Sunderland. (It should be noted that this was the old Accrington F.C. that was part of the original football league from 1888-1893 and went out of business in 1896. This club different from Stanley). The original 1891-1966 incarnation of Accrington Stanley (1891) that mostly played in the 3rd and 4th division of the football league never crossed paths with Sunderland. Thus meaning that when the clubs met in Accrington on 8 December 2018, it was the first time clubs from these cities that are just 89 miles apart as the crow flies, had met in over 124 years! Even that game was abandoned in the 72nd minute due to severe weather (we'll talk more about that later). It was two more months until a 2-2 draw on 15 February 2019 at the Stadium of Light that an official result would be put into the books.
Accrington Stanley vs Sunderland Vital Information
As of now we have not been able to establish a source where this game can be streamed from in the United States. Kick-off is at 2:45 PM U.S. ET/7:45 PM GMT.
Referee appointments have Darren Drysdale as the referee with Peter Gooch and Alix Pashley as assistants, and the fourth official is Geoffrey Liddle.
This will be the 3rd meeting all time between Accrington Stanley F.C. and Sunderland A.F.C.. In the previous 2 meetings, Sunderland has won 1 time, Accrington has won 0, and there has been 1 draw. It was a 3-0 Sunderland win in the most recent match at WHAM Stadium in Accrington, back on 3 April 2019. As noted above, when Sunderland travelled to Accrington last December, the game was called in the 72nd minute, while level at 1-1 due to unplayable conditions. The April match was a replay of this game. The interesting twist to this of course is that with the two now being drawn in the League Cup, it will mark a total of 6 meetings (5 official) in less than 20 months between the two by the time they square off at the Stadium of Light on 25 April 2020. When Sunderland travels to Accrington on 14 September 2019 for a League One match, it will be their 4th time taking the field at WHAM stadium in less than 10 months.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
When that game was called last December it caused a number of problems for Stanley, including losing a point they were 18 minutes away from earning, and crowding their schedule late in the season. However, the greatest collateral damage from the storm deluge came to the pitch itself. Not only was the surface rendered unplayable for that match, but never recovered for the rest of the season. This in turn lead to owner Andy Holt tearing it up as soon as last season ended, and putting in a brand new world class natural grass pitch. Holt has made a whirlwind of improvements to the grounds since taking over as owner in 2015, but this new playing surface, which included leveling the ground and adding proper drainage is quite a showpiece for the small Lancashire club. As things often tend to come full circle, with last week's home opener against Bury F.C. being postponed, this League Cup match against Sunderland will be the first on the new pitch.
Sunderland's 2019-2020 has gotten off to a bit of a disappointing start. Particularly troubling was their opening 1-1 draw at home against Oxford United F.C.. For a team that should be expecting to push for an automatic promotion spot this season, 1 point at home against middling sides like Oxford will come back to haunt. Their 1-1 draw on the road at Ipswich Town F.C. last week is a more respectable result, but also brings to light Sunderland's achilles heel. That being their inability to close out games for the full 3 points. We have mentioned this time and again, but last year it was their 19 draws that caused them to finish 5th with only 5 losses. This year they are on the pace to become the only "invincible team" to finish a season with 46 points. If a cat has 9 lives, then Black Cat's manager Jack Ross has to be on about his 8th at this point. I am a firm believer that getting 3 points against teams that you should get 3 points against, especially at home is the key to earning promotions. At some point just "not losing" games isn't going to be enough to get the job done. I apologize if folks are tired of reading this point every week, and believe me, I am tired of writing about it, but it just seems not to go away.
One big bright side for Sunderland this season that may be of particular interest to our readers in the U.S. has been the play of 23-year-old Santa Cruz, California native Lynden Gooch. Through the first 2 matches of the season, the midfielder has scored both of Sunderland's goals. Gooch is in his 4th season as a starter at Sunderland, and last season was his first as a full time player, when he scored 5 goals and added 7 assists in 31 starts. It is especially encouraging to see Gooch back in top form because after starting strong last season, he didn't have any goals or assists after 27 November 2018. In fact, his goal against Oxford was his first goal involvement of this calendar year. He also battled injuries down the stretch, including having to come off in an April match against Rochdale A.F.C. with a hamstring issue. If he can keep up his current form over an entire season then it will be a breakout season, and certainly have him more on the radar of U.S. mens national team coach Gregg Berhalter.
In the opening week match against Lincoln City F.C., Accrington started 22-year-old, Colby Bishop up front. Bishop was impressive in preseason, and had 29 goals in 36 games for Leamington F.C. in the National League North last year. As good as he looked, Accrington was in desperate need of depth and experience up front, and added that this week with a pair of key signings. The first came last Friday when they added Courtney Baker-Richardson from Swansea City A.F.C.. He had 3 goals in just 6 starts for The Jacks last season. He is pretty inexperienced himself, only having played 447 minutes last season, but the fact that those minutes were at the EFL Championship tier is significant. More recently, they brought in another 23-year-old striker in Dion Charles on Monday. Charles has more experience than Baker-Richardson, but most of it is at the 5th tier. Last season he scored 10 goals while playing in that tier for Southport F.C., his most successful stint was with A.F.C. Fylde from 2014-2016 where is scored 18 goals in 52 total appearances. Watching some film on Charles, (thanks to John Earnshaw for the link) he appears to be a good fit for Coleman's system. He doesn't appear to be a guy who will beat you with pure foot speed, but seems to be very good a timing is runs and has a solid, accurate looking shot. It is unlikely that Charles will be ready to play against Sunderland just one day after joining the club, but he is one to watch as he may be the most polished of Accrington's three young strikers at this point.
The guy to keep an eye on for Accrington is goalkeeper Dimitar Evtimov. He is quickly becoming a favorite player of mine, and I have even nicknamed him "Mr. Excitement" because something exciting happens nearly every time the ball comes near him. He tends to be a bit overly aggressive, and this sometimes gets him in trouble, but he also has world class reflexes that also bail him out of trouble. If this game goes into penalties I feel like his aggressive style and quick reflexes could be a difference maker. He is a guy who has shown that he has no fear, and in something like a penalty shootout I think that can be an edge. Top that off, if this does go to penalties the I give the edge to Accrington anyway simply for the fact the team with less pressure on the often prevails in these situations. Accrington would go into the shootout knowing that they aren't even expected to be on the same pitch with massive Sunderland, much less beating them. In other words, nothing to lose. Sunderland would go into it with the weight of a first round elimination, and a trip back to Sunderland to face the angry Mackem faithful after becoming the first Sunderland team to lose to tinpot Accrington in 125 years.
Accrington Stanley vs Sunderland Prediction
Like I mentioned above, this is a game where Sunderland really has nothing to gain, and everything to lose. Accrington on the other hand, could make a bit of history with a win, but doesn't carry the weight of expectation. The League Cup is interesting in that it doesn't carry as many financial benefits that small clubs can reap, as by making a long run in the FA Cup. The benefits of winning here are really all about exposure, and this win would certainly get some of that for Stanley. With both clubs having to play League One matches on Saturday, it will be interesting to see if either team, and especially Sunderland, rest any of their key players. Accrington's game last Saturday was cancelled, so with 10 full days of rest it should be less of an issue for Accrington. Last week's postponement also makes this Accrington's home opener, and the game will be played in front of fans who have been hungry to live, meaningful football since late last April.
It is entirely possible, especially given Accrington's roster shakeup, that Sunderland could just outclass Stanley as they did in their 3-0 win last April. I just don't see that though, most notably because I don't think this competition means enough for Sunderland to play their best lineup. Realistically, getting to the 2nd Round just means more to Accrington than it does to Sunderland. After all, Sunderland certainly isn't planning on beating Manchester City, or some other top Premier League team to win the whole tournament. That being said, why are they going to risk injury to a player like Gooch or Dylan McGeouch on a Tuesday in Accrington. If Sunderland is in it to win it, and plays their best 11, then I just don't think Accrington's roster has enough time together to beat a full strength experienced Sunderland side. If Sunderland rests guys like I expect, then this will be a match, and if Accrington's back 4 can dig in, and Evtimov can make a couple of big saves, I think this one could go the whole difference. Like I mentioned above, I like Accy if it goes into penalties.
Prediction – Accrington - 1 Sunderland - 1 (Accrington 4-3 Penalties)