Welcome to part 2 of ALS' 2020/21 season preview, a quick guide to every team we'll face in this upcoming League 1 campaign...
A team which skyrocketed into the limelight with firstly their fantastic FA Cup run a few years back whilst still in the National League before seeing league football back at Sincil Bank for the first time in years to now what looks like a comfortable League 1 outfit. Michael Appleton took over from fairly long-term manager Danny Cowley when he departed for Huddersfield Town in September, and one of his first games in charge was a 2-0 victory over Sunderland in October. However, we fared better when we met again in January with a 3-1 win with three goals in 10 minutes thanks to Tom Flanagan, an own goal and Lynden Gooch strike. They’ll definitely be one to watch this season with a fairly decent squad for this division, as well as the fact they’re captained by former Sunderland flop Liam Bridcutt.
We play them on: 12/12/20 (A), 20/03/21 (H)
Last season they finished: 16th
Another team which saw a return to League 1 last season under the guidance of Paul Tisdale before former Norwich and Rangers centre half, Russell Martin took the reins in November 2019, just after losing 2-1 to us at the Stadium of Light with goals from Max Power and Luke O’Nien. A late cracker from Lynden Gooch won the return fixture at Stadium MK in January, making it four wins out of four, including a 4-2 victory which started our road to Wembley in 2013/14 season, against the team from Milton Keynes, who of course are possibly the most controversial club in English football since becoming MK Dons from the old Wimbledon FC. A modern stadium where we always get a decent sized allocation, just hopefully we’ll be allowed to travel in numbers by the time we have a trip to Buckinghamshire.
We play them on: 14/11/20 (H), 06/02/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 19th
Another new team to play this upcoming season following the Cobblers’ promotion from League 2 last season via the play-offs where they crushed Exeter City 4-0 at Wembley. Led by former Carlisle manager Keith Curle, the Northamptonshire outfit will be looking to impress in their first season at this level since being relegated in the same year we dropped to the division from the Championship. A fairly small stadium at just over 7,000 capacity, Sixfields will be a new ground for me personally as we haven’t played Northampton away since December 1987 in the old Third Division which saw a 2-0 win with goals from Paul Lemon and Marco Gabbiadini although, a 3-1 win at Roker Park followed in that season but the only encounter since was a 2-2 draw in the League Cup in 2008 where we won the subsequent penalty shootout. We’ll play Northampton just after New Year and then again at home on the final day of the season, hopefully it’ll be a game for celebration!
We play them on: 02/01/21 (A), 08/05/21 (H)
Last season they finished: 7th (League 2)
A high flying side led by former MK Dons and Charlton boss Karl Robinson (not the one who donned our red and white stripes in the Championship under Mick McCarthy!), they made the play-off final, only to lose 2-1 to Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe at the home of English football. We’ve taken on the Us five times over the last two seasons with four of which ending in 1-1 draws and the most recent trip to the Kassam Stadium being sealed early on thanks to Jordan Willis in the pouring rain. United were responsible for ending our surprising run in the League Cup too last season with one of the aforementioned 1-1 draws being decided on penalties, which we lost on after Will Grigg and Marc McNulty missed their spot kicks. A force to be reckoned with, by League 1 standards and I’m sure both players and fans of Oxford alike will fancy their chances at hitting the play-offs again at least, if not promotion. A decent little ground, for our first away trip of the season (hopefully fans will be allowed in), away fans are located in the stand opposite the Main Stand but have no protection from the elements due to there being no stand behind the goal, which is where the coaches park!
We play them on: 19/09/20 (A), 02/04/21 (H)
Last season they finished: 4th
The Posh are always a team up and around the right end of the table and narrowly missed out on the play-offs by just a point, they are also the club of last season’s top scorer Ivan Toney who notched an impressive 24 times in the league with Fleetwood’s Paddy Madden (who was the second highest scorer) only managing 15 in comparison. Darren Ferguson’s side crushed us 3-0 on our visit to London Road in August which mounted the pressure on the already fragile Jack Ross, the time before that was on Easter Monday in the 2018/19 season when Max Power’s late screamer looked to have sealed the deal for us only for Matt Godden to score an injury time equaliser to share the spoils. Another team that will be guaranteed to be up and around the play-offs and if they manage to keep a hold of star man Ivan Toney, they’ll be looking to replace Marcus Maddison who left the club on a free transfer following a loan spell for the latter part of last season with Championship strugglers Hull City.
We play them on: 26/09/20 (H), 05/04/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 7th
A team who bounced straight back up from League 2 last season after going down on goal difference the season before, Ryan Lowe guided the Pilgrims to a third place finish last season in the bottom tier of English league football, clinching the final automatic promotion place. They’ve already been busy in this transfer window, securing the signing of highly rated Wigan midfielder Lewis Macleod, the Devon side really mean business and will hope to make their mark and remain in this division again for a few more seasons. It’s unquestionably Sunderland’s longest away trip, clocking in at a staggering 805 mile round trip, making it one of the longest journeys in league football. The last time we faced Argyle we defeated them 2-0 both at home and before that at Home Park, which at that point still had a stand under construction and this trip to Plymouth will be our last one of the season.
We play them on: 09/01/21 (H), 01/05/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 3rd (League 2)
Despite the long trip, somewhat of a rivalry has formed with the South Coast side, we’ve faced Pompey no less than seven times in the last two years with little joy. The first encounter for nearly a decade was in December 2018 and saw Jack Ross’ second league defeat as Sunderland manager at Fratton Park after being reduced to ten men when Glenn Loovens was sent for an early bath. More disappointment against the Hampshire club came at Wembley when we were defeated on penalties in the Checkatrade Trophy final after a 2-2 draw; the play-offs produced some joy for us, Chris Maguire broke the deadlock in the home tie of the semi-final which proved to be the only goal across the two legs and that was followed up this season with a 2-1 win at the SoL but it was back to disappointment this year when Phil Parkinson’s side never even came close in a 2-0 defeat. Portsmouth will obviously be eyeing promotion and possibly the title this season, as they have done for the past two, especially after losing in the play-off semis again this campaign, this time against eventual winners Wycombe. So, no matter what, it’ll be a difficult game against Kenny Jackett’s men. Certainly not the best stadium to travel to and matched with the fact that the away fixture is a 681 mile round trip, it’s not one for the faint hearted.
When we play them: 24/10/20 (H), 09/03/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 5th
The Manchester club have been a continuous fixture in League 1 for some time now, since 2014 in fact, they’re now managed by former player Brian Barry-Murphy following the dismissal of veteran coach Keith Hill. The trip to Spotland is usually an enjoyable one, with the pre match music being on another level and the fact that it’s just a short trip across the M62 to reach the ground. Sunderland met Rochdale for the first time in 2016, a game which ended 1-1 at Spotland in the League Cup with the Dale emerging victorious 4-2 on penalties against David Moyes’ men. However, more recently we’ve come out on top with four league wins out of four, including a 4-1 and 3-0 home win as well as two 2-1 victories on the road. Rochdale also is now home to former Sunderland and Ireland centre back Paul McShane, now there’s a blast from the past!
When we play them: 27/10/20 (A), 06/03/21 (H)
Last season they finished: 18th
A fairly lengthy journey for Sunderland’s travelling fans, the Shropshire side have proved to be a stumbling block for Sunderland, being a thorn in our side when they held us to a one all draw at the Stadium of Light in the hectic Christmas schedule in the 2018/19 season, the only meeting last season was a 1-0 defeat at Montgomery Waters Meadow with Jason Cummings breaking the deadlock. Since our first league encounter with the Shrews in nearly 30 years, former Wolves full back Sam Ricketts took over from John Askey and has established the border club as a stable mid-table team with former Sunderland right back Donald Love a regular starter with former Sunderland target Jason Cummings leading the line with Oli Norburn and Josh Vela.
When we play them: 19/12/20 (A), 23/01/21 (H)
Last season they finished: 15th
The last newly promoted team in this division, the Wiltshire side came up as champions, pipping Crewe to the league title on points per game average. Richie Wellens’ men had an outstanding campaign last season, striker Eoin Doyle hit the net an impressive 25 times, way ahead of second place Nicky Maynard of Mansfield Town with a measly 14 league goals. However, the Irish front man was only on loan from Bradford, he did make his move to the County Ground permanent but has since moved on to relegated side Bolton Wanderers, after turning down a chance to move to Wearside. The Robins’ first priority will be survival this season with anything else being seen as a bonus. The last time we played Swindon was in 1999 when Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips were on the score sheet in a 2-0 win for Peter Reid’s side, and the last trip to the County Ground – a one which I will hopefully be able to tick off this season – ended in a 1-1 draw on the opening day of our infamous Division 1 promotion season in 1998/99 with Super Kev levelling up after taking off on the back foot.
When we play them: 17/10/20 (A), 02/03/21 (H)
Last season they finished: 1st (League 2)
The final team on this long list of who we will play this season is Wigan Athletic. The Lactics were relegated last season following a points deduction after entering administration towards the end of last season, despite being mathematically safe from the games they had played, a 12 point penalty sealed their fate. The last time we took on the Lancashire side was in 2013 when both teams were playing Premier League football, Sunderland walked away from the DW Stadium 3-2 winners thanks to goals from Craig Gardner and a brace from Steven Fletcher. Wigan is another favourite trip for Sunderland fans so let’s hope we can be back travelling by the time we make the trip across the Pennines, one of the most memorable matches has to be that midweek victory in the howling wind which may have assisted the direction of Craig Gardner’s free kick on the stroke of half time to give us the lead in what ended a 4-1 victory in 2012. Wigan, despite being in administration, will be looking to make a swift return to the Championship, the last time they found themselves in this division, they climbed back out immediately inspired by top scorer Will Grigg.
When we play them: 05/12/20 (H), 13/03/21 (A)
Last season they finished: 23rd (Championship)