Sunderland A.F.C, ‘meeting the opposition’

‘Meeting the opposition’ – Sunderland A.F.C

I spoke to Michael Dunne ahead of the 2021 Papa John’s Trophy final between Sunderland and Tranmere. He is the founder of Sunderland’s Dublin supporters group ‘Dublin Cats’ and the Roker Report’s podcast contributor and writer. 

I’d like to thank him for answering the questions I placed towards him.

How long have you been a Sunderland fan and how did you first come across the club?

All my life. My Dad was a massive fan of a former Sunderland and Irish player named Charlie Hurley and I had no choice but to follow suit. There are pictures of me as far back as a baby donned in the Sunderland colours and I never looked back.

What moments stand out during your time as a Black Cats fan? (Highs and lows)

The Premier league era brought a lot of highs and lows. For me personally, the time when we were managed under Roy Keane was the most exciting time supporting the club. We were box-office. Everyone was talking about us, we were on TV most weeks and we were winning games with last minute winners. Keane understood the club it seemed and it led to exciting times.

Brief spells under Gus Poyet and Big Sam were also enjoyable. It was a joy to watch a player like Jermain Defoe play for the club and he contributed with some big moments in the clubs recent history during his time.

Lows. Where do I start? I think ever since David Moyes took charge of the club up until our most recent manager before the current one was the lowest period of the club. We were truly a shit show of a club for a few years. The year we were relegated from the Championship was such a low. It felt like the club had been run into the ground with no one caring or running it in any sort of professional manner. Our owner Ellis Short, checked out and the club was on its knees. The spell in League One gave us a little bit of time to recuperate but our previous owners, Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven are widely assumed to have taken the club over with an eye in earning a quick buck had we got promoted. Ever since losing that play off final, they appeared to lose interest amid quite fair fan unrest. Whilst they will argue they cleared debts and kept the club afloat, they completely stripped us of our assets and our new owner has a task on his hand to get us back into a healthy position.

Random fact about Sunderland? (The club, the area etc)

We have lost at Wembley Stadium on each and every occasion we have been there since the 1973 FA Cup Final against Leeds United. When I say occasions, it’s ten games in total since that cup win!

What were your expectations going into this season and what are they now the campaign’s drawing to a close?

Promotion. Automatic preferably. Under Phil Parkinson, it was not likely and it was certainly the right decision to get rid of him. Since Lee Johnson has taken over, we have slowly built up momentum and we are now primed for an automatic promotion charge. I think we are in an extremely good position to push on and grab one of those top two spots.

How important do you think a win on Sunday is for the club?

In terms of the season itself, I would be lying if I said it was a priority. With us being in our third season in League One, it is imperative that we get out of this league this season if at all possible.

That being said, it is an extremely long time since we won at Wembley and this has to be seen as a great opportunity to change this. Furthermore, a win on Sunday would be a perfect tonic for the rest of the season and ensure that momentum is maintained.

Who is Sunderland’s manager, how long has he been at the club and what are your thoughts on him?

Lee Johnson. The ex Bristol City manager came to us with a fairly decent reputation after doing a good job for them in the Championship over the last few years. I thought it was a

real signal of intent when we appointed him and I have to say I have enjoyed watching my team under his stewardship.

He likes to play high press, attacking and exciting football. He has implemented an attacking system which has got the best out of our attacking players which is fantastic to see. Whilst at the back, we are not conceding many notwithstanding all the injuries we have had to deal with. He deserves credit for this also.

Who owns Sunderland and what are your thoughts on them? (It was an interesting Netflix documentary by the way *laughs*)

Kyril Louis Dreyfus. He is a 23 year old billionaire heir. His father used to own Marseille in France. I can’t say I know much about him but I did think he came across very well in his first interview and said all the right things. He seems committed to the club and is in attendance at every home and away game which is great to see.

He seems very serious about this and did spend his youth in Universities learning the business side in football. The early impressions are good.

Who are Sunderland’s danger men?

It is hard to look past Charlie Wyke at the moment. He has scored 26 goals in all competitions for us this season with 21 of them coming in the league. He is in the form of his life and has built up a strong connection with our two wide men, especially Aiden McGeady who has been in amazing form since his return to the team after Lee Johnson’s appointment. I must mention Jordan Jones also who only came in January but has been a real threat for us every time he has played and got himself another goal in our away trip to Portsmouth with a sublime finish.

How do you see the game panning out? Your score prediction?

Whilst acknowledging the form of Tranmere in League 2 at present, you are probably meeting us at the worst time possible. We are playing really good stuff at the moment which I think will make for an interesting game. I genuinely think it could be a high scoring game, I’ll go for .. 3-2 Sunderland.

What do you think your starting eleven will be? 

It will be interesting to see who he will go with. 

We played a lot of our U23s in the early rounds and Lee Johnson has stated already that they will be involved. Our best defender Dion Sanderson is ineligible but we hope to have some back from injury also. I think it will be something close to this:

Burge, O’Nien, Wright, Flanagan, McFadzean, Power, Scowen, Gooch, Jones McGeady, Wyke

What are your thoughts on Tranmere? The club as a whole?

Tranmere were extremely unfortunate to go down last year with how everything panned out. It was a disgrace really. They were in good form and had every chance of staying up. To be fair to them, they have bounced back well and are in with a serious chance of promotion this season.

Keith Hill is a well regarded football league manager and I expect to see him get you back up to League 1 this season. I hope you lot are promoted but I hope Sunday is the last time we play each other for a while!!!

What are your thoughts on Sunderland’s January transfer business? This will, most probably, prove vital to Sunderland’s chances of playing Championship football next season.

Certainly! It is beginning to look like our business was quite good in the January window. Jordan Jones has been a revelation since he has arrived. He is a cut above this level and I am sure he is going to have a serious impact on our chances of promotion.

Carl Winchester came in from Forest Green and has taken a bit of time to get up to the pace of the league but is starting to look bright and had a decent game against Portsmouth on Tuesday. Jake Vokins and Ross Stewart have yet to make much of a contribution through form of others and injury for Stewart so the jury is still out on them.

There are two players with links to the both clubs involved in this upcoming final, Max Power and James Vaughan. Although Vaughan won’t be available for selection this weekend, what are your thoughts on them?

Certainly! James Vaughan is doing a lot better for Tranmere than he ever did for us. He was quite an unpopular figure on Wearside and seemed to have a high opinion of himself for a man who could not kick snow off a rope while he was with us. In fairness, he has proven himself a little bit better to Tranmere and other clubs. I do not think he is a Championship player but he seems to play a lot better at League 1 and 2 level.

Max Power has been very good for us in recent months. He has interchanged between right back and central midfield under Lee Johnson and has improved an awful lot under his guidance. He has already stated in the build up to this game how big it is for him personally and his family so I am hoping that will lead to a big performance out of him at the weekend.

Sunderland’s last victory at Wembley Stadium came in 1973 when they narrowly beat Leeds United 1-0, in front of a whopping 100,000 attendance. Sunday marks their eleventh appearance at the home of English Football since then.

Thank you very much for reading,

Stay safe, 

Ethan Hoijord

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