MATCH PREVIEW: Johnson’s men aim to kick off new era by making Swiss cheese of Burton Albion
Sunderland will be hoping to kick off Kyril Louis-Dreyfus’s reign as majority owner with a win when they travel to the Pirelli Stadium to face Burton Albion.
The Black Cats will be jubilant after confirming their place at Wembley by beating Lincoln City on penalties on Wednesday night, but with the final still some way away, they must turn their attention back to the league.
Lee Johnson’s side sit one spot outside the play-off positions in League One, in seventh place, with 44 points from 27 games, although form has improved dramatically under the new boss.
In a statement released by the club, Louis-Dreyfus spoke of his commitment to bringing long-term stability to the Black Cats, but another season in England’s third tier would undoubtedly be seen as a disaster for a club of Sunderland’s size.
Luckily, they begin their new era with a game against League One’s basement club.
However, since manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s return on New Year’s Day things have turned around for Burton, and the Brewers have won three of their last five games – including a last-gasp 1-0 victory over one of Sunderland’s promotion rivals, Hull City, on February 6.
And with the exception of a 5-1 drubbing in Hasselbaink’s first match in charge, one of the league’s worst defences now looks surprisingly solid, having kept back-to-back clean sheets.
If Sunderland do manage to find a breakthrough on Saturday, it will likely come from Charlie Wyke.
The 28-year old has been in scintillating form this campaign, leading the goalscoring charts with 17 goals, alongside Peterborough United’s Jonson Clarke-Harris.
Four of those goals came in the Black Cats’ last league outing against promotion-hopefuls Doncaster Rovers, when Sunderland ran out 4-1 winners.
Also looking to continue his good form is former Republic of Ireland international Aiden McGeady. The ex-Celtic and Everton winger has been vital so far this month, laying on Wyke’s goal on Wednesday, as well as all four against Doncaster, and two against MK Dons.
With a tough run of fixtures on the horizon – including games against Portsmouth, Accrington Stanley and league leaders Lincoln – Johnson’s men must continue to pick up points to keep their promotion dreams alive.
Meanwhile, Burton will be hoping to take advantage of the games in hand they have over their fellow relegation-threatened sides, in a bid to avoid playing their football in the League Two next season. Currently, they are just three points away from 20th-placed AFC Wimbledon.