Bet League One preview: Sunderland v Portsmouth – early season
title fight?
These sides have plenty of history, meeting five times in 2019, who will come out on top this time?
Simon Cooper - Getty Images

Sky Bet League One preview: Sunderland v Portsmouth – early season title fight?

Saturday's early kick off sees a titanic clash between Sunderland and Portsmouth. As VAVEL UK takes a look at how both sides might fare.   

Jack Theaker

Match day three in EFL League One begins this weekend, with the division being treated to its first taste of televised football. And it comes as no surprise as to which match it is, as the league's two biggest sleeping giants come face to face.

Last seasons beaten play-off finalists Sunderland host fellow title candidates Portsmouth, in a game that could have huge significance come the final table in May.

Story behind the game

Despite going into the season as promotion favourites, Saturday's opponents have collected just five out of a possible 12 points between them so far. With Jack Ross' Sunderland still looking for their first win of the season, after successive 1-1 draws. Meanwhile Portsmouth manager Kenny Jackett will be aiming for back-to-back league wins, following last weekends triumph over Tranmere Rovers.

Both clubs are accustomed to the sight of each other, as this will be their sixth meeting in the last 12 months. Pompey took four points from their two league meetings in 2018/19, but were then bested by the Black Cats in the League One play-off semi-finals. However the south coast side did come out on top during their Wembley clash, claiming the EFL Trophy in the process.

A win here would be important for either side, with victory giving them a potential stepping stone to push up the league and cement their position in the promotion places.

Team news

Ross has somewhat of a selection dilemma, after a solid performance in midweek. However, he will still be without Duncan Watmore, Ethan Robson and Glenn Loovens, who remain out injured. On a more positive note, Dylan McGeouch and Denver Hume are back in training after missing the midweek clash.

Portsmouth boss Jackett has a fresh injury problem in the form of Oli Hawkins who has a foot issue. On top of this, both Byron Morris and Ryan Williams remain out, but are close to a return to action. Youngster Jack Whatmough is there only other unfit squad member.

Predicted Line-up


(4-4-2) McLaughin, O'Nein, Willis, Flanagan, McLaughin, McGeady, Dobson, McGeough, Gooch, Maguire, McNulty


(4-4-2) MacGillivary, Walkes, Downing, Burgess, Brown, Curtis, Close, Naylor, Harness, Marquis, Harrison

Key Clashes

Jordan Willis v John Marquis

Portsmouth's big money signing John Marquis, who arrived from League One rivals Doncaster Rovers, is yet to score for his new club, although it is still early days. So he will be hoping that he can get off the mark in a huge tie such as this. But his fellow summer signing Jordan Willis will be aiming to make sure that doesn't happen. The centre-back arrival from Coventry City will be looking for his first clean sheet since arriving at the Stadium of Light.

Lynden Gooch v Anton Walkes

Sunderland have scored two league goals this season, both of which have come from wide man Lynden Gooch. The American will be looking to cause havoc once again and be the difference for his side. The task of stopping him falls to the feet of young right-back Anton Walkes. The former Tottenham Hotspur graduate is starting his second full season at Fratton Park and will be hoping to show that he can cope with the very best the league has to offer.

What the managers have said

Ross spoke to the club's media ahead of the match, noting the expectancy placed on his side.

“I've said often enough that every game is a must win, because of the expectancy that's on everybody's shoulders that represents the club.”

He also admitted that he is already well acquainted with Saturday's opponents. He said:

“There is a degree of familiarity (with Portsmouth), because we played each other so often, so I think for both teams there will be very few surprises.

“We want to win the game Saturday, because we know the importance of winning matches regularly, particularly at home.”

Meanwhile,  Jackett told the club website that despite the pressure that it brings, he is relishing the game. Knowing how big a tie it will be. He said:

“There is always pressure, but we're in professional football and we're paid to deal with that.

“It will be a great atmosphere on Saturday. They had 33,000 in for the last home game, although I don't know if the early start will affect that.”