Following a dismal display at home to Plymouth Argyle on Tuesday night, the lads are back in action at the Stadium of Light this weekend and welcome Shrewsbury Town, but what can we expect from them?

Following a poor start to the season at the Montgomery Waters Meadow, the appointment of ex-SAFC assistant manager Steve Cotterill, in late November, has proven to be a smart decision, given recent form. The Shropshire side have collected fourteen points in their last six league games- in comparison to our 10, including results such as a 1-1 draw at home to Charlton, 1-0 away victories to Hull City and Lincoln, as well as a 1-0 home victory to Doncaster Rovers, all four of those sides being in the top six, above Sunderland.

It seems Shrewsbury’s recent success has been down to an impressive defensive record. They’ve only conceded two goals in their last six games, guaranteeing themselves points from drawing whilst only needing few goals to secure wins. Usually operating with three central defenders and wing backs, Shrewsbury fan Matt Beetson (as a guest on the Red and White Podcast) expressed how Cotterill encouraged the wing-backs to be part of the midfield to form a midfield five, as opposed to stay back and form a defensive five. “It’s pretty much the same formation; Cotterill has tweaked a few things. Under Sam Ricketts we were playing 5-3-2 but it was very defensively set-up whereas Cotterill has come in with the experience from other clubs and played a lot more attacking 3-5-2 and its seemed to get us mode organised defensively and we actually look a threat going forward.”

Alternatively, it appears the side struggle to score goals, largely down to the lack of a goal scorer, as only Northampton Town (with nineteen) have scored less goals than Shrewsbury’s twenty-one in the league, which Matt also discussed, expressing how Shaun Whalley (Salop’s top goal scorer) is their main goal threat, despite being a thirty-three-year-old converted winger with only five goals to his name this season.

After being asked what tactic or player Sunderland need to be most worried about heading into Saturday, Matt added: “I’m going to say Shaun Whalley purely because when he does get the ball he can run directly at players, he’s quick and has close control, he knows where the net is. Whalley will be the key player to us getting a result.”

Going into Saturday, it’s clear what we can expect from Shrewsbury, a side that can handle teams, such as ourselves, who have ambitions of promotion, by keeping it tight defensively, only conceding one goal against four top-six sides recently, but who really struggle to hurt teams offensively, making the first goal (should there be one) crucial as, it will either ease the pressure on us to attack, allowing them to do what they do best. Soak up pressure and defend, or it will force them into attacking us to draw level, something they clearly struggle with, potentially causing them to over-commit which, if we are smart and play how we did against Lincoln, should play into our hands as we aim to hit them on the counter-attack, meaning it could be an ideal scenario for the dynamic winger Jack Diamond, should the game go this way.

Making a prediction for such a game looks to be very difficult as so much rides on the first goal, and the rest of the game will play out accordingly. If we defend how we did against Plymouth Argyle, we can expect to spend most of the 90 minutes chasing an equaliser against one of the most defensively sound teams in the division. However, if we are able to get an early goal, such as we did against Wimbledon and Lincoln City, I can see us coming away, quite easily, with all three points.