For some in an inexperienced and revamped squad, it will be the biggest crowd and biggest ground they have played in front of, but manager Darren Moore thinks the Premier League surroundings will bring the best out of his Doncaster Rovers side tonight.
Rovers are at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, a ground they visited for the first time at Easter.
The presence of the live television cameras will add spice, as will the form of both sides, which has seen them rise from the lower reaches of the table into play-off contention in recent weeks. Whichever way you look at it, this is a big League One game.
“I played there a few times and it used to wet my lips because as a boy growing up wanting to be a professional footballer, those were the sort of arenas you wanted to play in,” Moore says of a ground which hosted England as recently as 2016, and Premier League football in 2017.
“It’s a lovely arena but it’s the same green pitch, the same goalposts, 11 v 11 so when the game starts you put all that behind you.”
The Black Cats are averaging 30,169 in League One this season, more than 10,000 above the next biggest crowds, at Ipswich Town, and more than three times the average gate at the Keepmoat Stadium.
It’s a lovely arena but it’s the same green pitch, the same goalposts, 11 v 11 so when the game starts you put all that behind you.Darren Moore
In good times, it can be a real strength, but when frustration gets the better of them, it can be a weapon for the away side.
Moore will have to decide whether to shape his strategy accordingly.
“You have to decide whether to go with a different gameplan or stay with what you believe in,” he explains.
“My focus is on Doncaster Rovers and the continuation of performances I felt are why the results have kept coming.
“We keep analysing games, trying to put things right and building. I sincerely mean it. Every week there are areas for us to improve.”
When the sides met in Christmas week, Doncaster were on the back of their first win in seven, Phil Parkinson’s Black Cats winless in nine.
Sunderland won 2-1, to start a run of 13 points from a possible 15; Rovers have bounced back with four wins from six.
“In the Christmas period and the New Year both teams have had good results so you could see a better game,” argues Moore.
“Our two games against Coventry were real tactical games where both teams were fighting a mental battle with each other. This game could very much be the same with both teams having recently played each other, both teams having picked up momentum. It’s quite fresh in our minds where both teams have been.
“They’re strong, reliable, efficient, consistent, they know what they are. It does what it says on the tin in terms of where they are as a team.
“They probably feel they’re in the wrong league but they are where they are.”
On the back of last week’s 1-0 defeat to Coventry, tonight will be the second big test in seven days for Doncaster.
“We’ll learn a lot about our character,” says Moore. “Both clubs are deemed to be the stronger teams in the division so to play them back to back is a good test.
“In League One you’ve got six teams who’ve been in the Premier League and it just shows you the level of the division and we’re in the mix with them. It goes to show you the level, the strength of the division and what you’re up against. They should be hurdles we look forward to.”
Last six games: Sunderland DWDWWW; Doncaster Rovers WLWWWL.
Referee: J Adcock (Nottinghamshire).
Last time: Sunderland 2 Doncaster Rovers 0, April 19, 2019, League One.