safc.com catch up with Tom Metcalfe from the GasCast to preview Saturday's game against Bristol Rovers.
Thanks for joining us, Tom. What has this season been like for Bristol Rovers fans?
TM: “It hasn't been an easy one for us. We’ve been struggling near the relegation zone for most of the season and the atmosphere around the club had been pretty flat to be honest.”
Darrell Clarke left the club just before we faced each other in December and your form has generally improved since then, what has the new manager Graham Coughlan done differently?
TM: “Graham has made us a much stronger defensive unit, which isn’t surprising seeing as he was our defensive coach. This has led to us having one of the meanest defences in the division and contributed to us losing only two games under him so far. Unfortunately, there are too many draws in there, but you can’t have it all. He also changed the forward partnership from the usual Stefan Payne and Tom Nichols to an Alex Jakubiak and Gavin Reilly, and more recently, has included deadline day signing Jonson Clarke-Harris which has made us more of the threat going forward."
Bristol Rovers have only lost once since we last played each other in December, so can Sunderland expect a team full of confidence this weekend?
TM: “Our home form has been our real Achilles Heel this season. I wouldn’t say we’ll be full of confidence, as our form is still mid-table, but the fans are absolutely buzzing for this one, just as they were when we travelled up to Sunderland, and you have sold out your allocation, so I expect a great atmosphere.”
Who should Sunderland fans be worried about this weekend?
TM: “Clarke-Harris is a threat. Although he missed a penalty on Tuesday night, he looks like a player high on confidence and is a handful. We have missed that powerful presence up top since Ellis Harrison left for Ipswich in the summer. Ollie Clarke is a long-range specialist, and he is our joint top scorer. He is your classic blood and thunder player, putting his body on the line for the team. That was why he was suspended for Tuesday’s game, but I expect him back in the starting XI for Saturday. The other player I would keep an eye on is Tariq Holmes-Dennis. Playing at left back or left wing back, he isn’t a particularly large goal threat, but he is a Championship player in a League One team.”
We meet again in a few weeks in the Checkatrade Trophy semi-final - which game is more important?
TM: “One hundred per cent the league. Survival is the priority for us, even if a day out at Wembley is on offer."
Finally, what is your prediction for this weekend’s game and why?
TM: “I’m going for a 1-0 Rovers win. We’ve been defensively solid and low scorers, so I can’t see us scoring loads, but if we get our noses in front, I reckon we’ve got enough to shut up shop."