Phil Smith's Sunderland AFC Q&A: Wembley team news latest and the huge summer decisions on the horizon

Sunderland head for Wembley next Saturday as they look to win promotion from League One at the fourth attempt.

By Phil Smith
Friday, 13th May 2022, 1:45 pm

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Wearside is again bracing itself for an all-or-nothing encounter, with the initial near 38,000 allocation for the game snapped up within days.

So how are Sunderland faring ahead of the contest and what should fans expect from Wycombe Wanderers?

And depending on how the game goes, what can we expect to come next?

Sunderland celebrate Ross Stewart's goal against Sheffield Wednesday

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Phil Smith runs through some of these big questions in his reader Q&A. The answers can be read below...

How do you think Alex Neil will approach the final and what do you think about the job he has done?

Absolutely no differently to how he has done every other game.

It’s been the cornerstone of his philosophy since coming into the club and the playing squad have bought into it massively.

I think he’d done an exceptional job to date.

It hasn’t always been amazing to watch, but I do think we would see more tempo and fluidity after a full pre-season of work.

His coaching in terms of the defensive structure has been impressive, particularly given some of the injury/squad issues at the back.

Then there are the intangibles, the way he seems such a good fit for the fanbase and the resilience this team has shown of late.

Promotion looked a long, long way off after the defeat to MK Dons, so to get the team within one win has been impressive, whatever comes next.

Do you think Sunderland will try and tie him down to a longer contract, whatever happens at Wembley?

The minutes from the recent supporter collective meeting suggest that the club are not overly concerned about the length of his contract or interest from elsewhere.

Personally I think it would be a good idea, to build on the momentum built over the last few weeks however next Saturday pans out.

There’s a lot of belief the future can be bright under Neil, and that’s not to be taken for granted after four years at this level.

How big of a boost is it having Nathan Broadhead back and do you think he will start?

It’s massive, Broadhead is a player who clearly thrives on pressure and has proven himself this season to be one of the best finishers at the level.

Even in a brief cameo against Sheffield Wednesday, he showed his ability to get on the ball and it helped relieve pressure.

Neil admitted he wasn’t at full tilt for the game, so it could be a big ask for him to start at Wembley.

Neil may also want to keep the shape the same, as Sunderland looked good over the two legs and the two wingers were a constant threat.

Broadhead might well represent an excellent option to introduce in the latter stages.

What’s the team news looking like elsewhere in the squad?

At the moment in looks pretty positive. Neil will certainly hope at this stage to have the same squad available to him as he had for the second leg at Sheffield Wednesday.

Broadhead has over a week to get closer to full fitness, while Leon Dajaku is back in training after his recent illness. He is still a doubt for Wembley, as Neil said before the semi finals that he had quite a bit of catching up to do.

Similarly, he’ll have a difficult call to make on Aiden McGeady again given his lack of match fitness, but these are all good problems for him to have.

The biggest doubt is over Carl Winchester, who was ruled out for ‘weeks rather than days’ after suffering a groin injury in the 1-1 draw with Rotherham United. It looks like it’ll be tough for him to get fit in time.

Who are the key dangermen in the Wycombe line-up?

Sam Vokes has been outstanding this season and as we have already seen in the league fixtures this season, Joe Jacobson’s set-piece delivery has the capacity to completely change games.

That will be a big focus of both team’s pre-match preparations, I think.

Watching the two legs against MK Dons, centre-backs Anthony Stewart and Ryan Tafazolli were both excellent.

What kind of game do you think we can expect at Wembley?

I think Wycombe’s game has evolved from the first time they won promotion from this division.

Yes they are still physical and a big threat from set pieces, but I think they have more attacking threat from open play, particularly through McCleary who I mentioned above.

So it might be a little more open than expected, though early on I definitely think they’ll try and take the sting out of the occasion.

I think it’s going to be tight, and nervy!

How do you see the summer panning out, if Sunderland do win promotion - and if they don’t?

I think there’ll be two main strands, really, and both will be relevant regardless of next Saturday’s results.

One will be to quickly establish whether Neil and the hierarchy are on the same page regarding plans moving forward. Both have suggested they are, but there have not yet been substantive talks and the turnaround to next season is tight.

I don’t think there’ll be a major departure from this season’s plan, and it will still be about broadly targeting talented players who can grow with the club.

The other key element will be the ownership - will Louis-Dreyfus move to meet the valuation Donald and Methven have put on their shares? And if not, what does the mean for the club moving forward?

Do you think Aiden McGeady will get a new deal this summer? Any other hints as to other contract news?

It’s a difficult one because it’s almost impossible to get a sense on where McGeady is in terms of hotness, having not played since November.

He himself has said that he wants to carry in playing, and there’s no doubting his technical quality.

How that balances with what Sunderland want to do in terms of bringing the age of the squad down and moving towards financial sustainability is a difficult question.

At this stage I’d say it’s unlikely, but we’ll see.

Broadly speaking my instinct is that the club will try and keep the core of this group together where possible, and build on it in the summer window.

But there are of course so many variables within each individual negotiation.

Would you offer Lynden Gooch a new deal?

For me it is a pretty clear yes.

Gooch is passionate about the club, rarely gets injured and is dependable in four or five different positions.

In an unfamiliar role, he has been excellent for the last month.

I’d want him in my squad promotion or otherwise.

It may well be more of a decision for Gooch himself, in truth. He has been at Sunderland for a long time and at times has struggled this season with being moved around the pitch and being asked to play out of position so much.

Some of the criticism along the way will definitely have stung.

But for now, there’s a great chance to go and make this a very easy decision for both parties at Wembley next summer.