Phil Parkinson has been previewing the Portsmouth game this weekend and believes it’ll be a tough test of our promotion credentials. “I think those games against your perceived league rivals carry that added importance. There is no doubt about it that Portsmouth will be a team in and around the top six, they had a good result in the week against Gillingham, and a couple of surprising indifferent results this season as well. Both sides are expected to do well this season, but we don’t have the idea that we should win games because we’re Sunderland – we should only win when we earn the right to win matches. This is the drum we keep banging to the lads, and the work-rate and discipline reflect that. We always want to win convincingly, but the three points is the most important factor along with the performance level. We talk about the clean sheets which are good, and a lot of the reason for those clean sheets is – as well as some great defending – because we are in the ascendancy for large parts of games. We’re creating great opportunities and we need to increase our percentage of chances on target, but I’m convinced somewhere along the line, we’ll score four or five goals. In any squad, you have to have versatile players. Lynden [Gooch] and Luke [O’Nien] in particular have shown that very well so far this season. It’s important we have players in the system we play to be able to pass the ball, drive forward with energy, and eliminate opposing players out of the game. We have those types of players, and we have leaders in the squad, like Bailey [Wright] – players with a lot of character. You need that – players who will influence their teammates on and off the pitch – and they’re hard to find.”

The gaffer also gave a fitness update on the likes of Jordan Willis, Tom Flanagan, Elliot Embleton, Dion Sanderson and Callum McFadzean. “Callum McFadzean will, like all players, have a fight to get into the team, but he will definitely be making a contribution between now and the end of the season. Dion Sanderson is nearing full fitness but had missed a bit of training with Wolves, and they marked his card in terms of letting us know he needed some training before we exposed him to playing. We’ve had to be fair to him as well, and make sure he’s ready. Chris [Maguire] and Charlie [Wyke] have started and played the last 3 games in attack and done really well. Of course, the other lads will be wondering when they’ll get the chance to play and be on the end of these balls into the box. They have to back themselves to take those chances. With Jordan initially, a big lump came up on his foot which we were worried about, but he had an x-ray and was cleared. It has settled down a lot, we didn’t need to push him for Tuesday, but he’s a lot closer for this game. Tom is fine. We were worried at first and he had to go for an MRI scan, but the specialist was happy for him to continue and he came back sooner than expected off the bench on Tuesday. Elliot has trained, and as far as I’m aware he’ll be involved with the Under-23s on Monday, providing hopefully all has gone well.”