The League One campaign returns this weekend with Bristol Rovers making the long trip up north to take on Promotion contenders Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland welcome The Gas in a buoyant mood following their 8-1 thrashing of Aston Villa U21’s on Tuesday night. Rovers on the other hand suffered a defeat at the hands of old boss Darrell Clarke and his Walsall side, albeit via a penalty shoot-out.
That result though means that Rovers’ last win in a competitive match was against Phil Parkinson’s Sunderland side, the game before lockdown was put in place in March.
Rovers have been handed a tough start to the new season with Sunderland up first before another promotion tipped side in the form of Ipswich Town, who beat Rovers 3-0 in the Carabao Cup a week ago, travel to the Mem but manager Ben Garner believes his team can kick off the new season with a win.
“If we go to Sunderland and win on Saturday everyone will say ‘what a great start’ and it will fill us with confidence and momentum going into those next games,” Garner told the club’s media outlets.
“You’ve got to go everywhere at some point and I think one thing’s for certain for our group, we’re going to get better with time.
“It’s a new group, a young group but I sense it building in training, I sense the atmosphere in the group building.
“I think there’s a lot of really good work been done over the summer by the club, we really have pressed the reset button on the football club.
“We need to be competitive on the pitch, we want to win games and we want to be as high up that league as we can, but we also want to make sure we’re doing that the right way by building for the future of this football club.”
Rovers will have James Daly available after the striker recovered from a virus but the match will come too soon for midfielders Alex Rodman and Josh Barrett.
The Gas will also welcome back Goalkeeper Anssi Jaakkola after he came back from international duty with Finland.
Sunderland go into the game looking to hit the ground running on the new season in order regain their Championship status. The Black Cats are about to spend their third season in League One and after being play off runners up in their first, they finished eighth last term.
Like Rovers, Sunderland suffered an early exit in the Carabao Cup, losing on penalties to League One rivals Hull City but bounced back in style in the win over Villa’s U21’s to give Phil Parkinson a selection headache ahead of the visit of Rovers.
Black Cats boss Parkinson made 10 changes from the side that lost to Hull and with many impressing, picking a side for the opening league fixture has turned into a real dilemma for the former Bolton and Bradford boss.
“I want tough decisions”, Parkinson told the Sunderland Echo.
“I want to be talking with Steve Parkin at half 6 in the morning and thinking about what we want to do because the lads have given us difficult choices to make.
“The lads have given us plenty to think about tonight.”
New signing Danny Graham is set to start up front Sunderland, the 35-year-old scored 14 in 29 starts during his last League One campaign in 2017-18 with Blackburn.
Club captain Grant Leadbitter is set to miss out on a place in the squad after it was confirmed that Max Power will be team captain for the forthcoming season.
GasCast Score Predictions:
Harley – Sunderland 2-0 Rovers
Max – Sunderland 2-0 Rovers
Simon – Sunderland 5-1 Rovers