An early season EFL League One clash of the titans happens this Saturday, 10 August 2019, at Portman Road in Ipswich, England, between Ipswich Town F.C. and The Black Cats of Sunderland A.F.C.. It will be the second match of the season for both former Premier League clubs, who are among the favorites to be fighting for promotion this year. Things got off the a good start for Ipswich went on the road against Burton Albion F.C., and came home 1-0 winners. Sunderland started off the season at home against Oxford United F.C., but the supporters went home from the Stadium of Light disappointed, as the game ended in a 1-1 draw. This match was just another chapter in what has been a frustrating book for Black Cats supporters. After losing in a heartbreaking playoff final against Charlton Athletic F.C. to miss out on promotion last year, the last thing Sunderland supporters were expecting was a draw at home against an Oxford side that was 12th in the table last season.
It is safe to say the neither of these clubs, who have spent a combined 18 years in the Premier League, are satisfied with being in the 3rd tier. Sunderland are now just 3-years-removed from playing in the Premiership, and their 13 total season at that level are tied with Bolton Wanders F.C. as the most among current League One clubs. The Tractor Boys have 5 Premier League seasons as a club, but haven't been at the top tier since 2002. However, they were relegated from the EFL Championship last year after a disastrous season that saw them finish dead last. They had been in the Championship for 17 consecutive seasons before that, and this season marks their first time as low as the 3rd tier since 1957. Sunderland found this division tougher than expected last season, eventually finishing 5th in the table. Time will tell if this is only a blip in the map for Ipswich, or the start of a long road back.
In action from the first week, The Tractor Boys got their goal from an unlikely source. For Luke Garbutt, it was his 10th goal in 100 career starts, which isn't bad for a left-back, but certainly wasn't what Ipswich had in mind when they got him on a season long loan from Everton F.C.. However, his goal in the 11th minute was enough to hold up for the win in a game that Burton had 59% possession in, but managed just one shot on target. It was a single goal scored for Sunderland last Saturday as well, their's coming from a more likely source, in the form of a 49th minute penalty shot by U.S. international Lynden Gooch. Last season was a breakout campaign for Gooch, who had 5 goals and 7 assists in 31 starts for The Black Cats. Despite winning the battles in possession, shots, shots on target, and corners, Sunderland couldn't find anything more offensively against an Oxford side that played extremely physically by committing 20 fouls.
Ipswich Town vs Sunderland A.F.C. Vital Information
This matches can be viewed on iFollow in the United States, and in the UK. Saturday's game starts at 10:00 AM U.S. ET/3:00 PM GMT
Referee assignments are To Be Determined.
This will be the 51st meeting all time between these two clubs at opposite ends of England's eastern coastline. In the previous 50 meetings, Ipswich has won 23 times, Sunderland has won 20, and there have been 7 draws. It was 2-0 win by Ipswich in the most recent of those at the Stadium of Light in the Championship on 3 February 2018. In fact, the clubs have only played twice since 2007, with Ipswich also winning by a lopsided score of 5-2 at home on 26 September 2017. Sunderland's last win in the series was 1-0 at home on 13 January 2007.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
Sunderland lined up in a 4-4-2 in the match against Burton, and had Will Grigg and Marc McNulty up front. Grigg joined Sunderland last February from Wigan Athletic F.C. after leading score Josh Maja departed to Bordeaux. Grigg had 4 goals and 3 assists in 15 starts last season. However, was mostly used as a reserve late in the year, and in the promotion playoffs while he struggled with ankle issues. This season he hopes to be back to full fitness, and has his eyes on a 20-goal-season. McNulty comes over on a full season loan from Reading F.C., and had an impressive season for Coventry City F.C. at the EFL League Two level in 2017-2018, with 23 goals. The 26-year-old has put up impressive scoring numbers everywhere he has been, including 6 goals and 4 assists in just 10 games for Hibernia of the Scottish Premiership last year. However, he hasn't seen significant playing time at this tier since 2015 with Sheffield United, which means there are a lot of question marks up front for The Black Cats. Charlie Wyke is another talented forward on their roster, but at least for now doesn't seem to fit into the style that manager Jack Ross wants to play.
Ipswich made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason and were the cause of many tears shed in Birkenhead when they signed James Norwood, who had spent his previous 4 seasons with Tranmere Rovers F.C.. Norwood's 30 goals (counting one in the Promotion Playoffs) were far and away the most in League Two last season. In spite of a jump in divisions, Norwood is the favorite to lead League One in scoring this year at most sports books. Ipswich lined up in a 4-4-2 with Kayden Jackson alongside Norwood up front. Jackson played a big role in Accrington Stanley's promotion season in League Two in 2017-18, when he had 15 goals and 8 assists. He became the first player ever to fetch Accy an over 1 million pound transfer fee, when he moved to Ipswich last season. He had 3 goals and 2 assists in 14 starts in the Championship last year. Playing at this tier, and next to Norwood, it seems that Jackson could be a sleeper to have a big scoring season season.
In the match against Oxford, Dylan McGeoutch was named Man of the Match. It was an encouraging performance from the midfielder who ended up struggling with injuries, and playing in less than half the teams games last season, after being one of their most touted signings. He will need more games like this to keep his starting role in a crowded Sunderland central midfield. It was Flynn Downs who was Man of the Match for Ipswich against Burton. The 20-year-old midfielder is an Ipswich Academy product who started a career high 21 matches last season. He also scored his first career goal in last season final match against Leeds United F.C. on 5 May 2019. The match-up between these two central midfielders will be one to keep an eye on this Saturday.
One of the biggest stories last season with Sunderland, was their league leading total of 19 draws. This is a club that finished 5th in the table in spite of only losing 5 games, the fewest in the league. Sometimes statistics like this are coincidental, but after awhile it becomes a trend. This season started with more of the same, and the draw came at home to a less talented opponent. At some point Ross is going to need to make the adjustments necessary to close out games for 3 points. The players and coaching staff at Sunderland are under and inordinate amount of pressure to get promoted, which makes their jobs uniquely difficult. At the same time, just not losing games isn't going to be enough to get back to the championship. If Sunderland is leading the league in draws again by Boxing Day, then I am going to pin this trend on a lack of managerial adjustments at halftime.
It is hard to overstate just how bad things were for The Tractor Boys in 2018-19. They finished dead last in the Championship with a -41 goal difference, and that final win against Leeds was just their 5th of the season. The season included sacking manager Paul Hurst after just 15 matches and just 1 win. They were also upset in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup by Accrington Stanley. The club was mathematically relegate on 13 April 2019 with 4 matches still to play in the season. This matchup on Saturday will be a good gauge for how their rebuilt roster matches up with the top end of League One, and is a uniquely important early season match between a pair of clubs who are not just seeking, but in desperate need of promotion.
Ipswich Town vs Sunderland A.F.C. Prediction
To understand the magnitude of this game, all that you need to know is this is a League One match between two clubs with a combined stadium capacity of 79,000. That is a lot of buns to try to put in seats and some awfully larger utility bills to pay at League One admission prices. Ipswich has gone out and signed Norwood and brought in other big name pieces like Garbutt that have given them instance legitimacy. Sunderland seems to be relying more on trying to build from within, which is a good plan, but they seem to lack a bit of direction. Shipping off Maja never made much sense and it seems like a roster full of really good but not great players. Add to that the fact that they seem to have genuine problem with closing out games, I like the direction of Ipswich more, even though they are in the first year of their rebuild. This Saturday is sure to be a hard fought contest between a pair of clubs who are under and extraordinary amount of pressure. If I had to pick a team between these two to get promoted this year, my quid would be on Ipswich. I am tempted to pick them for the win at home, but this is Sunderland and I fully expect them to be playing for 1 point on the road.
Prediction – Ipswich Town - 1 Sunderland - 1