Covid, the one to watch and injuries: The latest from Sunderland ahead of Sheffield Wednesday clash

It’s surely the biggest clash League One has to offer.

Thursday, 30th December 2021, 5:00 am

And as the clock ticks down towards Thursday evening’s third tier tie between Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday, it becomes more and more likely the fixture will escape the clutches of a Covid outbreak that has seen the Owls’ last two matches postponed.

But what is the latest up north? We spoke to Sunderland Echo writer Joe Nicholson for the inside scoop.

What’s the latest at Sunderland after the postponed matches and so on?

Sign up to our Sheffield Wednesday newsletter

Sunderland's Ross Stewart is a man Sheffield Wednesday will need to watch on Thursday evening.

Sunderland have managed to play all their scheduled matches this month but their game against Fleetwood, scheduled to be played on January 2, has been postponed due to an outbreak in their squad.

Lee Johnson confirmed three players had tested positive after the win over Doncaster on Monday, but there has been a concerted effort to try and prevent an outbreak, with extra precautions in place.

Sunderland had games called off last season and felt it hindered their promotion hopes.

This season they want to try and get points on the board rather than having games in hand and matches crammed together later in the season.

What’s the feeling like among supporters about the team’s promotion hopes?

The aim this season is obviously automatic promotion so whenever the team has a bad result there will be criticism.

Lee Johnson has come under pressure at times this season, yet most fans are behind him, while recent performances and results have been encouraging.

Monday’s win at Doncaster saw Sunderland move back up to second in the table, yet there will always be an element of caution after three previous seasons in League One.

We saw Sunderland lose at Hillsborough earlier in the season, how have they done since then?

Since that game in November Sunderland have gone eight games unbeaten in the league and regained some much-needed confidence.

They have changed formation for certain games due to injuries and a lack of full-backs and Johnson deserves credit for that after a couple of heavy defeats.

The side have now won three of their last four league games, while a 1-1 draw at Ipswich before Christmas can probably be viewed as a decent point.

What formation are they likely to play?

Due to injuries at full-back, Johnson has found success playing what can be described as a lopsided wing-back system.

At times it looks like they are playing with a back three, yet against Doncaster centre-back Bailey Wright moved across to right-back and it was more like a four.

Sunderland had also found success by playing with two strikers in Ross Stewart and Nathan Broadhead, yet the latter has now been ruled out for at least three months with a hamstring injury.

Who have been the side’s standout players this season?

Ross Stewart is the obvious answer and is the side’s top scorer with 12 league goals this season.

Academy graduate Dan Neil has also been one of the first names on the team sheet in midfield.

After a slow start to his Sunderland career, partly because he missed most of pre-season with Covid, Alex Pritchard has really stepped up in recent weeks.