Despite the 5-1 score line in the Carabao Cup quarter finals defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium, Sunderland AFC head coach Lee Johnson and the Black Cats supporters saw plenty of positives in that game against the Gunners.
With the 2021/22 season serving as the fourth consecutive season for the club in Sky Bet League One, Sunderland is fiercely eyeing a return to the Championship – and ultimately, a “homecoming” back to top-flight football in the Premier League. Despite suffering back-to-back relegation seasons in 2016/17 and 2017/18 – the latter being chronicled in the Netflix documentary Sunderland ‘Til I Die.
Despite changes in ownership and key senior members of the club, Sunderland failed to secure immediate promotion back to the Championship in 2019, losing a play-off final to Charlton Athletic at Wembley Stadium. The Black Cats once again had a chance at promotion up to the Championship in May 2021, but lost a play-off semi-final on a 3-2 aggregate score line across two legs to Lincoln City.
Sunderland enter Monday’s game at the Eco-Power Stadium third in the league with 43 points, just two points off second place Wigan Athletic and an automatic promotion spot which they will certainly hope to secure this campaign to avoid the play-offs which have been so cruel to them in recent years.
Despite the scoring proficiency of Ross Stewart (11 goals) and Nathan Broadhead (seven goals), Sunderland have been inconsistent recently, winning just four of their last 10 League One fixtures, losing three games and drawing three games in that span. Across their last 15 matches in all competitions, the Black Cats have won four matches, lost six and have five draws.
Johnson and his staff must now deal with an injury to the team’s second-highest scorer Broadhead that will see the forward miss out with a hamstring injury. According to Johnson, it will be Alex Pritchard (two goals, six assists), Elliot Embleton (two goals, four assists) and Leon Dajaku (four goals, one assist) that will all be counted on as a trio to step up for the club in the wake of the Broadhead injury.
In games away from the Stadium of Light this season, Sunderland have notched eight wins, five losses and four draws. In those away fixtures, the Black Cats have conceded 20 goals and scored 20 goals. However, in League One matches this year, Sunderland sits tied alongside Milton Keynes Dons for the third-most goals scored with 39. Only Rotherham (43) and Wigan Athletic (40) have more goals scored in league play this season.
Since dropping down to League One, Sunderland and Rovers have met six times with Rovers managing just two draws losing the other four.