Ahead of Sunderland’s crunch match against promotion rivals Charlton, @MattyCrichton spoke to @CharltonLive host @LouisMend who answered our questions concerning our upcoming League One opponents.
Sunderland and Charlton met on the first day of the season, with ourselves snatching 3 points in the 96th minute - how have Charlton changed as a team since that game?
I’d probably say they haven’t actually changed that much. Charlton’s front two in particular caused Sunderland issues early on in that game - Karlan Grant using his pace to win the early penalty that Lyle Taylor converted. Not many defences have been able to deal with our strike partnership since this campaign. Once Bowyer finished building his side with a couple of loanees towards the end of August, they’ve been fairly consistent - and eight wins in the last 11 games have kept them up with the play-off pack, despite an injury crisis threatening to knock them out of their stride.
Like Jack Ross, Lee Bowyer is an inexperienced manager within the English Football Leagues, are you enjoying having him in charge of Charlton?
He’s doing very well, especially considering the circumstances he works under. Charlton’s ownership issues are well documented. Roland Duchatelet has stated his intention to sell the club and has been cost-cutting in the meantime. Bowyer’s budget has been small for a Charlton manager and he’s had to cut his cloth appropriately. His squad could be considered light but his new recruits this summer, such as Taylor, Krystian Bielik and Josh Cullen - all on free transfers or loans - have been good. He isn’t afraid to tweak his side or tactics when something needs changing. Charlton fans love him.
You have recently lost your first-choice goalkeeper Jed Steer who was recalled by Aston Villa, are you confident Dillon Phillips can deputise effectively?
Certainly. I’ve always rated Dillon and was a bit disappointed that he was overlooked for yet another loanee this season. Steer performed well but sitting on the bench yet again wasn’t helping Dillon’s development at all. He’s a good shot-stopper. Steer’s distribution was the reason he was chosen over Phillips but you could see on NYD against Walsall that the academy graduate had been working on that over the last few months. Hopefully he’ll keep his place for the rest of the season now and will sign a new contract at the end of it.
Sunderland have seen first-hand how dangerous Kahlan Grant and Lyle Taylor can be upfront, who else in the Charlton team has impressed you this season?
The likes of Joe Aribo in midfield and Jason Pearce in the defence are steady but both have joined the ever-increasing injury list in the last few days. Aribo in particular has helped the team tick in the middle and has been a big miss over the Christmas period. Special mention as well for George Lapslie who made his full league debut at the SOL on opening day. Many were worried how he would adapt to first-team football after a wobbly cameo from the bench last season, but he’s really stepped up this campaign and looked the part. Naturally, he’s expected to be out injured on Saturday as well.
19-year-old left-back Toby Stevenson started in your win against Walsall on New Year’s Day, are you worried he could face a torrid afternoon marking the likes of Lyndon Gooch and Aiden McGeady being so inexperienced?
I imagine that he won’t play. Chris Solly will have served his one-Match suspension for his red card at Barnsley. He is much more comfortable on the right-hand-side but has been filling in on the left with Lewis Page out and is capable there.
Charlton are strongly linked with signing Jonny Williams who had an injury plagued loan spell at Sunderland last season which was uncovered in our Netflix documentary, how do you feel about the prospect of this signing?
Excited although cautious. The last thing Charlton need is someone else who is going to be injured a lot of the time but when fit he is said to have a quality about his play. Time will tell is he is able to show that in a Charlton shirt.
Both teams are currently sitting within the playoff positions, could we potentially see a repeat of that famous final in 1998?
You never know! You’d fancy Sunderland, with their games in hand, to make a real fist of challenging for the top two. I don’t think Charlton have quite enough to mount an automatic promotion charge but there’s every chance we’ll be in the play-offs again. Anything can happen from there on in.
Looking at your home record Sunderland will do well to come out of South East London with a win, what do you think the score will be on Saturday?
Both sides can score goals - I’m expecting an entertaining 2-2 draw.