With two vital games this weekend, we climbed on the ALS Magic Roundabout, with our Easter Eggs, to discuss the ins and outs of SAFC
There’s an older adage in football that the Easter weekend often decides who goes up and who goes down. With a tough game against Oxford on Good Friday and then a crucial six pointer against Peterborough on Easter Monday, do you think Easter could decide our fate and can we come away from these games with six points?
Easter could help decide our fate but if we don’t take six points and lose at Peterborough then I think it’s crucial to not dwell on it and let it derail our season. After the weekend there are still enough games left and as seen with the league this season, anyone can beat anyone, so you never know when a team is going to drop points. I can see us getting four or six points, Oxford will give us a good game however I think we will just edge it, but the Peterborough game could go either way, depending on what Posh side show up. If it’s the one that played at Blackpool then we should come away with three points but if it’s the one that demolished Accrington then we are in for a tough afternoon.
Yes, but Easter is early this year! I think it’ll go to the last game sadly. Peterborough and Hull both look strong and I fancy Blackpool and Portsmouth to put some pressure on too – whoever finishes third will have a tough play-off game. I think we need to get a point off Peterborough and to beat Oxford. On current form I think that’s entirely possible. Weirdly, I think we could tear someone apart at some point soon, it’d be an absolute pleasure to do it against Peterborough on Sky. That would be a really public message of intent (but equally I’d take your hand off for a scrappy 1-0 win!).
In days gone by, Easter was more of a crucial period of the season because games were played on Friday, Saturday, and Monday and once that weekend was over, there were just a handful of games to go. That was with two points for a win, so the modern three points a game means that the same number are available from weekend’s the two matches. This season, with us playing two games a week for so long, it’s more about the opponents that the timing. Oxford are in a canny run of form as they aim for the play-offs, and the Peterborough match is a proper six-pointer, what with their whupping of Accy’s ass the other day levelling their goal difference with ours. Monday's game gives us the chance to go past them into the automatics, but for me the week of April 13th to 20th is the season definer for us, with away games at Wigan, Blackpool, and Hull.
With Bailey Wright, Tom Flanagan, Denver Hume and Jordan Jones all returning from injury, if everyone was available, what would be your starting eleven, preferred formation and subs if ever was available?
Burge; Power, Wright, Sanderson, Hume
Subs: Matthews, Maguire, Gooch, O’Brien, Scowen, McLaughlin, Diamond
It’s a tricky one because we haven’t been playing especially well but have been getting the results so, do you change it and go after a more polished performance or stick with ‘don’t change a winning team’. For me, the forward players can be chopped and changed easier than the defence, so I’d say Jones comes in as a super sub. I’d like Power out of that right back position and, probably O’Nien in there. I’ve always felt Hume was better going forward than defensively, so I’d be nervous dropping him into a four with so few minutes behind him. It makes me think a three is the best option. McLaughlin, Sanderson and Wright with Hume on the left and O’Nien on the right. Any two from Power, Winchester, Scowen and Leadbitter (essential when the games are coming thick and fast) with Jones, McGeady and Wyke. Having said all of that, O’Nien might get a couple of goals from midfield so maybe he goes in there and Power goes to right wing back? I think it’ll come down to maturity and experience in some games so having Wright and Leadbitter in there will be a huge plus.
The impending return of Wright, Jones, Hume, and Flanagan is obviously great news, and gives Lee Johnson a wonderful selection headache with the obvious conundrum being the O’Nien situation. He’s performed commendably in the heart of defence but has had a couple of dodgy moments in recent games, and, while he has bags more pace than Wright, our fave Aussie is the mouthpiece and organiser at the back, although we’ve been well organised in his absence, as evidenced in the lack of work for Burge. Bearing this in mind, if Johnson sticks with a flat back four, I’d stick with the same central defence. Should he switch to three, I’d go for McLaughlin, Wright, and Sanderson, which brings us to the full-backs. McLaughlin and Hume for me, which is perhaps harsh on McFadz, as he’s improved no end in the last month, but Hume’s extra pace tips the balance in his favour.
McLaughlin, Wright, Sanderson, Hume
Gooch, Wyke, O’Brien, McGeady
Bench: Matthews, Flanagan, Winchester, Scowen, Leadbitter, Maguire, Jones, Stewart
Flan can play across the defence (with O’Nien dropping back if injuries force another defensive change), Winchester, Scowen, and Leadbitter can bring fresh legs if needed to central midfield, while Maguire, Jones, and Stewart are the impact subs. The flexibility of players like O’Nien and Gooch means that we can change formation during a game as we either go for the win or protect a lead. The use of subs is a vital part of making the selection work, and Johnson has shown that he’s our most effective user of them since Reidy with Michael Bridges.
Prediction time. Where will we finish this season? First, second, or third?
First. We’re the form side going into the last stretch of the season and with our games in hand I think we will edge it. Hull are starting to stutter and Peterborough are hit and miss whilst we are able to get result after result. To go up automatically I think we’ll need eight wins and two draws from our remaining games. However I’m not bothered if we finish first or second just as long as we get out of this wretched division.
I’ve been saying 88 points will do it for a while, 90 to be sure, and I still think that’s true. That means seven more wins and a couple of draws. With five home games to come that should be possible. But it wouldn’t be the Sunderland way would it?! Gun to my head… I’ve got us and Peterborough going up with the winners on Monday winning the title and Portsmouth through the play offs.
We have to have belief, and if our current run of form doesn’t create belief amongst the players nothing will, that we’ll overtake at least one of the two teams above us. Games in hand aren’t as good as points in the bag, but they’re inevitable as we continue to play catch-up with the fixtures this term. Win them, and we got top, simple as that, so what we have to do is maintain our form, ease our returning players back into the fold, and make sure any slip-ups aren’t against Peterborough, Hull, or Blackpool. The strength of our squad and the clever use of subs are the factors that should see us end the campaign in top spot.