It is fair to say it has been a turbulent few years for both of these clubs. The Black Cats (Sunderland A.F.C.) suffered successive relegations in 2017 and 2018 to see themselves competing in the English third tier (EFL League One) for the first time in 30 years. Despite being favourites to turn their fortunes around last season, and gain automatic promotion back to the EFL Championship, they fell at the final hurdle. Their season crushingly ended when they conceded an injury time goal to Charlton Athletic F.C. in 2018’s play-off final. Meanwhile, Pompey (Portsmouth F.C.) have gone through some of the most worrying times in the club’s recent history. In the midst of serious financial troubles, the club fell from the Premier League to the 4th tier of the English football pyramid (EFL League Two). They have since gained promotion back to League One, and all of this has happened in the space of 7 years (2010-2017). Portsmouth also made their way to the play-offs last season, where they lost over two legs in the semi-final to the very Sunderland side they are visiting this weekend.
Sunderland have not exactly made the start to the season they would have wanted. Too many draws last season was a major factor as to why the club did not finish in the automatic promotion spots. Manager Jack Ross has to have been frustrated to see his team draw their first two league fixtures of the season against Oxford United F.C. and Ipswich Town. However, the side from the north-east seemed to get back on track with a 3-1 win at Accrington Stanley F.C. on Tuesday night in the EFL League Cup.
The visitors start the day one point ahead of their opposition as Pompey bounced back from an opening day loss at Shrewsbury Town F.C. to defeat League One newcomers Tranmere Rovers F.C. 2-0 at Fratton Park last Saturday. Hollywood superstar Will Ferrell was in attendance for that win and Portsmouth will be welcoming back another anchor-man in the form of midfielder Ross McCrorie, who is eligible for selection once again after serving a one match ban following his sending off on the opening day of the season. Although Sunderland did triumph in the play-off battle between the two teams last season, the two fixtures of the regular season saw a 3-1 Pompey win at Fratton Park, and a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light. With both teams’ ultimate goal for the season being promotion, they will need to put in a stellar performance if either are to come away with what could be a vital three points in Saturday’s early kick-off.
Sunderland A.F.C. What To Watch
A certainty for the starting 11 will be goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin. The Scottish stopper played all 46 league games for the club last season following his move from Hearts (Heart of Midlothian F.C.) in the summer of 2018. He has started both fixtures in League One this season so far, as well. Namesake Conor McLaughlin has been brought in by Ross as a defensive addition from Millwall and has played all three competitive fixtures this season. The Sunderland manager will be counting on them both to keep the backline tight against the Portsmouth frontline.
There is plenty of competition for places in the Sunderland midfield, but one player hoping to make an impact this season will be Dylan McGeouch. The central player joined the club last season from Scottish Premiership side Hibernian F.C., but didn’t play as regularly as he may have liked. McGeouch has appeared in both league games this season, and now has a real chance to make his mark on lower league English football. Wide player Aiden McGeady is the real shing talent of the squad. Although he is now coming into the latter stages of a long career, his sheer quality shines through at this level without a doubt. In Tuesday night’s win over Accrington Stanley, McGeady came off the bench to score a goal, and create another to pull the game into his team’s favour. The Portsmouth defence will certainly be hoping to see him on the substitutes bench yet again on Saturday.
Marc McNulty is the player tasked with scoring the goals this season. The loan player from Reading F.C. has previously had a spell with Coventry City F.C. in which he was nothing short of prolific. Alongside multimillion-pound January signing Will Grigg, they could well cause the Pompey defenders to have nightmares for days to come.
Portsmouth F.C. What To Watch
The centre back partnership of Paul Downing and Christian Burgess has looked very promising for Portsmouth in the early stages of the season. New signing Downing arrived on a free transfer following his contract with Blackburn Rovers F.C. expiring. He has plenty of experience at this level, having previously played for Walsall F.C., Milton Keynes Dons F.C., and Doncaster Rovers F.C. in League One. On the other hand, Burgess has been with the club since 2015, and was present for Pompey’s promotion from League Two in 2017. They are going to need all that experience to effectively shut out the opposition attack on Saturday.
One player that has certainly caught the early on in the season is midfielder Ben Close. Portsmouth’s number 33 has 2 goals in 2 starts across all competitions this season, showing his attacking teammates that he is able to chip in when needed. Tom Naylor is Close’s central midfield partner and although a more naturally defensive player, he also found himself on the scoresheet last week against Tranmere. It is unlikely that the pair will remain regular goal scorers throughout the season, but Sunderland will certainly have to keep an eye on them.
With no Portsmouth forward having scored in the opening two league games of the campaign, manger Kenny Jackett will face a hard choice when deciding who should start up front. Ellis Harrison did notch two in the League Cup against Birmingham City F.C., but new signing John Marquis is yet to make a lasting impression. Brett Pitman is another option available to Jackett, after making appearances from the bench in all three competitive games this season. The Pompey faithful will be hoping whoever is given the start will perform in such a big fixture.
Sunderland A.F.C. vs Portsmouth F.C. Prediction
After drawing 19 games last season and already two in the new campaign, I think Sunderland will continue their trend as one of England’s draw specialists and come out with creditable 1-1 draw against tough opposition in Portsmouth.
Prediction: Sunderland A.F.C. - 1 Portsmouth F.C. - 1