Opposition Talk: Sunderland (A)
Doncaster Rovers head to Sunderland this weekend hoping to bounce straight back from Tuesday night’s hard loss to Fleetwood and spark another winning run. They face a Black Cats side who they have never beaten in the league and have generally struggled to perform against in recent meetings.
Ahead of the clash we spoke to Graham Falk, Sunderland fan and host of the What The Falk football podcast. Read on for his thoughts on the game and when you’ve done that, check out our editor’s appearance on this week’s What The Falk pod previewing Saturday’s match, linked further down the page.
ITEN: Here we are again then, Sunderland v Doncaster. How are you feeling about the Black Cats since the sides last met in November?
Graham: Much the same, to be completely honest. The takeover is apparently on, the manager has changed, Aiden McGeady has come back in - but it's still absolutely rubbish.
The whole team is horribly average, that it feels a stretch to even get into the Play-Offs this term - and that's just appalling to be honest. Stewart Donald aimed for 100 points last season and now we are hobbling around in eighth.
Since we last met, our home form has been horrific too. We've lost to Milton Keynes, Plymouth Argyle, Wigan, Mansfield (in the FA Cup) and drew against Burton, AFC Wimbledon and Gillingham. I enjoyed Christmas when we had a Covid-19 outbreak and couldn't play for three weeks. That was nice.
Lee Johnson is the latest man tasked with turning the club’s fortunes around. Has he done a good job since arriving, or is it more of the same malaise you had under Phil Parkinson so far?
I loathed judging anyone too quickly, so everything I say he is with the knowledge he has only been here for 12 games - but I'm just not sure on him at all. He's the opposite of Phil Parkinson. He's got all these modern words he seems to come out with, like not "using our USP” or playing in the "POMO" area. He certainly talks a good game, but we're still losing matches against rank average teams.
He seemed to address the fact we had no pace in the middle (anyone at Sunderland could have told you this five seasons ago - alas, the club didn’t) and with a new recruitment team in place I thought we'd get to January and finally address it and we signed...Carl Winchester.
I didn't really fancy Johnson at first, I've not really been impressed, he does grate on me a little - but I hope he proves me wrong and he's got tons of time to do so. We can't keep sacking managers.
Your form has been hit-and-miss which may explain a league position of 7th. Is that position a fair reflection of the squad at present?
I wouldn't say so. We're worse than that in my honest opinion, but this league is absolutely rank. All it would take to get out of it is a decent run of form because not one team has impressed me this term but we're just not good enough to beat any of these average sides.
If I'm honest, I’ve given up on promotion - even if we sneak into the Play-Offs, we'll get battered because there are teams who are better than us. We're more like the 12-13th best side in the league at the moment.
Charlie Wyke has been the main goalscoring threat this season, with his 13 goals a marked improvement on previous seasons. What has changed for the striker?
Hard to say really, because he couldn't hit a barn door with a banjo in a far superior squad two years ago. He has had a pre-season this term to be fair to him, which he hadn't for the two previous seasons. I also think he's benefitted from both Parkinson and Johnson seeing him as the main man. I'm convinced he's a confidence striker - like many are.
I can't fault Charlie this term, he's got nearly 20 goals in all competitions and looks a threat in most games. Sadly his teammates let him down weekly.
Who are the other stand-out players for Sunderland in your view at the moment?
Remi Matthews stands out like a sore thumb. He's bloody awful.
If you mean positively, probably Aiden McGeady? But he's 35-years-old and he's certainly not playing out of his skin, he's just technically far too good for this league and always has been. Charlie Wyke, as touched on above, has had a great season and has looked like the striker we thought we'd bought, but the support around him is pretty average.
Luke O'Nien is always consistent and has looked good when he's been given a chance in the middle recently, scoring at Milton Keynes. If he's in midfield, I think he can do the business - I've never seen him as a right-back.
That aside, I'm really struggling. Jordan Jones could turn out alright.
What do you think new signings like Jones and Jake Vokins are going to bring to the side?
I was really positive about both.
Jones looks a player to be fair, but he was really quiet against Shrewsbury to the point I forgot he was playing. He's direct, can put a ball in and offers competition in a place we are well stocked with Lynden Gooch, McGeady and Chris Maguire. I'm hoping he'll turn out well because he certainly has the talent.
Vokins looks like a fish out of water and Callum McFadzean has been pretty awful since we reverted to a back four. He was okay as a wing-back but he is so woefully exposed in a four, however on current evidence Vokins looks even worse, which is a real worry.
Shrewsbury and Milton Keynes targeted him all game and we got tortured down our left-hand side both times, so you'll get plenty of joy down your right if you have a go at him - he looks terrified.
A takeover by French business heir Kyril Louis-Dreyfus appears to finally be nearing completion. Is there some optimism around the club about it or does it feel like another false dawn?
Depends who you ask really.
We need Stewart Donald, Charlie Methven and Juan Sartori as far away from Sunderland AFC as humanly possible. After talking the talk and getting all the goodwill in the world from the fans in the first season, they've proven to be the worst owners we have ever had - no matter what some will try and tell you.
To me, it felt like they gambled on us going up the first season so they could turn a profit and look like the good guys (which would have been fine, had we gone up) and when we didn't, they shit themselves and had no plan B, leaving the side - on and off the pitch - like raggy-arsed rovers. So, as you can see, anyone replacing them will be positive.
However, once bitten and twice as shy. I, and many others, gave Stewart and his men plenty of goodwill, a silly - almost naive - amount of backing really, and his failure to adequately repay that faith and blame it on us "demanding fans” leaves many of us with a feeling of insecurity. Trust is broken because of how badly the whole club was treated since we landed in League One. Nothing a promotion can't fix though - maybe in 2029, when we are allowed back in stadiums.
Finally, how do you see Saturday’s game going?
Pfffft. I think Doncaster were one of the worst sides we've come up against this season based on that singular 1-1 game at the Keepmoat, but I'm guessing that was a one-off because you've absolutely blitzed the league since and, I would say, could easily win the title. You've got a great manager who recruits well. Could you tell me what that is like, please?
I'll say 1-0 Doncaster. Remi Matthews to drop the ball into his own net. Or something.