Scout report: Return of boyhood Newcastle United fan could spell trouble for Sunderland against Walsall

Sunderland will lock horns with Walsall once again this weekend
Sunderland will lock horns with Walsall once again this weekend
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Sunderland host struggling Walsall on Saturday afternoon as Jack Ross’ side look to keep the pressure on the top two in League One - but what should they expect?

The two sides have already met three times this season and the Black Cats have failed to win any of the fixtures, recording two draws and a loss.

These games came within three weeks of each other, with Walsall knocking Sunderland out of the FA Cup in the second round.

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Three months since that last meeting between the two, how have the Saddlers fared?

We take a closer look ahead of the fourth game between the two sides in 2018/19:

What system will Walsall play?

There has been a lot of tactical changes over the last few weeks in Walsall’s squad but they seem to have finally settled on a 4-3-3.

The system sees wingers Josh Gordon and Zeli Ismail on either side of Morgan Ferrier who leads the line. Ferrier may drop out on Saturday, though, with top scorer Andy Cook set to return from suspension.

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The boyhood Newcastle United fan has proven a big miss for the Saddlers in recent weeks having netted 16 times this season and his return may spell trouble for the Black Cats' backline.

Since switching to the formation at the start of march they have had mixed results, winning once and drawing once before losing 3-2 to Portsmouth on Tuesday evening.

The club have also favoured a 4-4-2 with deeper midfielders in 2019 in a setup which resembles a 4-2-2-2.

Who are Walsall’s key players?

Ismail has been a revelation this year at Banks’s Stadium. The winger has played 31 times this season including 25 in the league.

Former West Ham youngster George Dobson is expected to play just in front of the back four on Saturday and he could cause some issues for Sunderland’s attackers.

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The 21-year-old spent season on loan at Walsall in 2016-17 before spending a year at Dutch club Sparta Rotterdam.

Since returning on a permanent basis he has been a regular in the starting XI.

Do Walsall have any injury worries?

As it stands there are very few issues in the Walsall squad ahead of their trip to Wearside.

Who is Walsall’s manager and what can we expect from them?

Dean Keates currently occupies the dugout at Banks’s Stadium and this is his first full season in charge at the club.

Following a two-year spell in charge of non league Wrexham, Keates was snapped up by Walsall in March last year and Saturday’s game will mark exactly one year since he took the job.

He played for the club over two stints during his playing career and also made appearances for clubs including Hull City, Peterborough United and Wycombe Wanderers.

What form have Walsall been in?

Since the last time Sunderland played Walsall, the midlands club have slipped from 13th in the League One table down to 19th, where they currently sit.

Throughout March, they have picked up four points from three games and on Tuesday night they lost 3-2 to Sunderland’s promotion and Checkatrade Trophy rivals Portsmouth.

The team have only won three times in 2019 so far with those coming against Gillingham, Bradford and Fleetwood.

Last six league games: LWDWLL