Sunderland vs Bristol City Preview: Black Cats looking to escape relegation zone against play-off hopefuls

Sunderland face Bristol City in the Championship with the two sides eyeing up very different ends of the table.

Sunderland vs Bristol City Preview: Black Cats looking to escape relegation zone against play-off hopefuls
Sunderland training at the Stadium of Light in midweek. (Photo: Ian Horrocks / Getty Images)

Sunderland play host to Bristol City in the Championship on Saturday afternoon with the two looking at very different ends of the league table.

The Black Cats sit 23rd in the table with just nine points to their name from their opening 13 games, while the Robins have surpassed expectations so far and lie just one point outside of the play-off places in seventh.

Sunderland yet to rectify costly defensive issues

Sunderland's defensive woes have haunted them all season and seem to show no signs of improving, with their respectable 16 goals scored bogged down by a league-high of 25 goals conceded, matched only by 22nd placed Burton Albion.

Simon Grayson's side have conceded 10 of those goals in their last four matches, and most recently threw away a 3-1 lead at Brentford to draw 3-3, leaving the Black Cats winless in the league since their 3-1 win over Norwich City on August 13.

They are yet to win at the Stadium of Light in 2017, and have just five home games in which to record a victory before attaining the unwanted statistic of having gone a full calendar year without winning at home.

Aiden McGeady has been the standout player in attack for the Wearsiders and has netted three times in his last four games, while recently fit striker Lewis Grabban scored his fourth and fifth of the season at Griffin Park last weekend.

Grayson has remained upbeat despite his side's precarious league position, saying "we would have taken that" if offered with a three-game unbeaten run prior to playing Preston North End, QPR and Brentford and added that "we want to build on these last three draws."

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Robins one of Championship's surprise packages

Lee Johnson's Robins have been one of the Championship's surprise packages so far this season, sitting in seventh after 13 games despite finishing three points above the relegation zone last season.

Their spirits were dampened somewhat by last weekend's 3-0 home defeat at the hands of Leeds United, but they certainly didn't let that show in midweek as they steamrolled struggling Premier League outfit Crystal Palace 4-1 to progress to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup.

They have been especially impressive away from Ashton Gate, losing just once in all competitions away from home - a 2-1 defeat at Birmingham City on August 12.

The Robins possess one of the most potent strikeforces in the division, with Championship joint-top scorer Bobby Reid and his strike partner Famara Diédhiou on seven and five league goals each.

Assistant manager Dean Holden has stressed that the Robins need to remain wary of Sunderland's threat on Saturday, saying that "they’re going to get a result at some point" before adding that "we’ve got to make sure it’s not on Saturday."

Team news

Sunderland have Marc Wilson and Jonny Williams at their disposal once again but will be without centre-back Tyias Browning due to a hamstring problem. Paddy McNair has been in action for the club's under-23s in recent weeks and could return to the first-team this weekend as a substitute.

Korey Smith, Nathan Baker and Reid have all trained for Bristol City during the week and could return to the squad for Saturday's game, although Diédhiou is likely to miss out due to a knee injury he sustained during the 4-1 win over Crystal Palace.

Predicted line-ups

Sunderland (4-4-2): Ruiter; Oviedo, Koné, O'Shea, Jones; McGeady, Cattermole, Ndong, Watmore; Vaughan, Grabban.

Bristol City (4-4-2): Fielding; Bryan, Baker, Flint, Wright; Leko, Brownhill, Pack, O'Dowda; Reid, Woodrow.