Sunderland face Walsall for the fourth time this season at the weekend so we decided to speak to Express and Star journalist Joseph Masi to see what we can expect this weekend.
Hello Joseph, thanks for joining us. Walsall started the season really well but are now just a few points above the drop zone, how would you sum up their season so far?
JM: We’re hoping it’s going to be a season of three thirds. The Saddlers started the campaign really well. In mid-October they were sat in the play-offs and everyone, myself included, got a bit carried away. They looked genuine contenders to finish in the top six because they defended as a team and had a real threat going forward.
But then they went on a poor run, a few key decisions went against them, players started to lose confidence and things snowballed. For a spell, they simply forgot how to win. They didn’t play that badly, they were in the vast majority of games, but for whatever reason they just couldn’t get over the line.
That all changed against Bradford a few weeks ago when they won despite having Andy Cook sent off in the sixth minute. They then secured a good point at Burton before comfortably beating Fleetwood.
The loss against Portsmouth on Tuesday was disappointing because they did enough to draw the game.
It feels as though the team has now turned a corner following that poor run in the middle of the campaign. If they play like they have in the last four games for the rest of the season, they will stay up.
But they need the final third of the season to match the first because everyone at the bottom seems to be picking up form.
We have faced each other three times already this season and it is fair to say that Walsall have been our bogey team! What have you made of those games we have played this season?
JM: I wasn’t at the FA Cup replay at the Stadium of Light. But in my opinion Walsall should have won both the games at the Banks’s Stadium.
I was really impressed with the spirit Sunderland showed after going down to 10-men in the first game. Aiden McGeady in particular stood out for me. And I thought Adam Matthews was excellent.
But ultimately it was Walsall’s naivety which cost them three points. They also missed some big chances in the FA Cup game.
Which player should we be weary of at the weekend and why?
JM: There’s a few. Josh Gordon has really stepped up since Andy Cook was sent off in that win over Bradford. He netted twice in that game which boosted his confidence and he works so hard for the team.
Cook is back this weekend though after missing three games. He’s top scorer on 16 goals and is a boyhood Newcastle fan so hates Sunderland. He’d like nothing more than to score at the Stadium of Light. Also keep an eye out for Zeli Ismail, on his day there are very few full-backs in League One who can cope with him.
And which player are you most worried about this weekend and why?
JM: Where do you begin? Sunderland’s squad on paper looks far too good to be in League One. Aiden McGeady is the player I fear the most. But a lot of Walsall fans will be worried about Will Grigg. He made his name at Walsall but loves playing – and scoring - against us.
Finally, what is your score prediction and why?
JM: Walsall have a tendency to play better against the better teams. Plus I think they are relishing going back to the Stadium of Light. I’ll go 1-1.