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In recent weeks, Sunderland have started to stamp their authority on League One, sending a message of intent to their competitors for a precious place in the Championship next term.
Arguably, the Wearside outfit have not been in such impressive form since relegation from the second tier three years ago, and will be keen to maintain their momentum this weekend after previously missing out on the chance to play virus-stricken Fleetwood.
Indeed, Lee Johnson‘s men have laid dormant since the back-to-back wins that ended 2021 in fine style, as they took six points from six against Doncaster and Sheffield Wednesday – racking up eight goals while keeping a pair of clean sheets.
Their 5-0 destruction of Wednesday, who had previously boasted one of the best defensive records in the division, came courtesy of a Ross Stewart hat-trick, and sets Sunderland up for a period which could bolster their promotion hopes.
Before visiting title rivals Wigan at the end of February, only home games against Portsmouth and MK Dons should prove particularly challenging, while superb form at the Stadium of Light and a kind run of away fixtures mean Johnson can be confident of consolidating his side’s position in the coming weeks.
However, they must first travel south to Buckinghamshire, where they meet a side they beat 3-1 when the teams met in the North-East last August, with Stewart striking twice on that occasion. Against a rising tide of illness and injuries in the camp, Sunderland would gladly take a repeat result on Saturday.
Having seen their last game postponed due to an outbreak in their opponents’ camp, Sunderland are apparently one positive COVID-19 result away from cancelling this weekend’s fixture. A number of players have been ruled out with the virus, as on-loan defender Frederik Alves joined Aiden O’Brien, Ellis Taylor, and injury absentees Luke O’Nien and Jordan Willis on the sidelines this week.
Lee Johnson, then, will be nervously waiting for some to test negative so that they can return to first-team action by Saturday, as his squad was already depleted due to injuries and could drop below the 14-man minimum required.
In better news for the visitors, Carl Winchester – who has missed the last two games with a calf problem – is hopeful that he will be fit to feature if needed, but Everton loanee Nathan Broadhead is out with a hamstring injury until spring, so in-form Ross Stewart continues to lead the line up front.
Wycombe, meanwhile, will be able to welcome back Gareth Ainsworth to the touchline, after he missed their last two matches in isolation with COVID-19.
Ainsworth can call upon Jack Grimmer, who made a return to the team at Charlton and should play on Saturday, while Ryan Tafazolli remains a doubt, so young defender Chris Forino-Joseph – a starter in the Chairboys’ last two matches – may continue in the back three.
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Sullay Kaikai is unavailable, having left for Cameroon, where he will represent Sierra Leone at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Wycombe Wanderers possible starting lineup:
Stockdale; Grimmer, Jacobson, Forino-Joseph; McCarthy, Wheeler, Scowen, Obita; McCleary; Hanlan, Vokes
Sunderland possible starting lineup:
Hoffmann; Wright, Flanagan, Doyle, Gooch; Neil, Evans; Dajaku, Pritchard, Embleton; Stewart