Sunderland vs Derby County Preview: Play-off hopefuls clash in season opener

The 2017/18 Championship season finally gets underway on Friday evening with Sunderland hosting Derby County while elsewhere Nottingham Forest play newly promoted Millwall.

In this preview VAVEL UK looks at the game taking place on Wearside as the newly relegated Black Cats start life in the second tier against a Derby side who are hoping to break into the play-offs after missing out last time around.

Sunderland remain a ship sailing on rough waters

Following on from last season's disastrous campaign, problems keep appearing on Wearside just when boss Simon Grayson could do wthout them.

Midfielder Darron Gibson was recently filmed claiming some of his team-mates didn't care about the club mere hours after the Black Cats suffered a humiliating 5-0 home defeat against Scottish Premier League champions Celtic.

The Black Cats must move on from that debacle as quickly as possible, and they now have a chance to set things right at home in front of a disgruntled fanbase who have not seen their side win at the Stadium of Light since a 1-0 victory over Watford in December 2016.

Pre-season has not filled fans with any confidence having been held to a draw by League One side Scunthorpe United while also suffering a heavy 3-0 defeat against SPL outfit St. Johnstone earlier in July.

New signing James Vaughan looks set to start and is in need of a goal to boost his confidence following two penalty misses in pre-season, while Aiden McGeady is also likely to make his competitive debut for the club.

The Black Cats would gladly take a repeat of the last iteration of this fixture in 2008, when they ran out 1-0 victors over the Rams at the Stadium of Light thanks to a last minute Anthony Stokes strike during Derby's infamous 11-point season in the top-flight.

Rams hoping there is light at the end of the tunnel under Gary Rowett

After finishing in the play-offs but failing to secure promotion twice in the last four seasons, Derby fans are hoping that they can make their return to the Premier League under Gary Rowett this time around.

The Rams were unbeaten in five during pre-season, but have lost their last two games against Northampton Town and Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim.

Following the losses of influential players Will Hughes and Tom Ince to the Premier League, fans are looking forward to seeing how new signings Tom Huddlestone, Curtis Davies and Andre Wisdom will fare this season.

An injury to former Sunderland striker Darren Bent keeps him out of action until Christmas, meaning Matěj Vydra will likely have to shoulder the goalscoring burden until then and a scoring start to the season against the Black Cats would stand him in good stead.

Team news

The hosts are still without Duncan Watmore and Paddy McNair, who have been injured since the middle portion of last season and are not yet ready to return to the side.

Left-back Bryan Oviedo remains out injured and will no play part in Friday's game, while new goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter may potentially play a part if his international clearance comes through on time.

The visitors are without the aforementioned Bent, who was a fan favourite during his time on Wearside, but aside from him Rowett has most of his usual first-team squad to choose from.

New signings Huddlestone, Davies and Wisdom could all make their competitive debuts for the club on Friday should Rowett see fit to involve them.

Predicted line-ups

Sunderland (4-4-2): Steele; Jones, Koné, O'Shea (c), Galloway; Khazri, Cattermole, Ndong, McGeady; Vaughan, Grabban.

Derby County (4-4-2): Carson; Wisdom, Keogh (c), Davies, Olsson; Russell, Huddlestone, Bryson, Johnson; Vydra, Martin.