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Sunderland preview and pub guide: Black Cats still finding their feet in Championship

Sunderland preview and pub guide: Black Cats still finding their feet in Championship

Sunderland have struggled so far this season – their first outside the Premier League since 2006/07.

Relegation in May was not really a surprise, given that they had been around the drop zone in each of the previous five seasons, and they have also found this season hard going so far.

Going into Saturday’s game, they are second bottom of the table with only one win, and five draws, from their opening 12 games.

The solitary victory was in the second match of the season at Norwich (3-1) so they arrive at Griffin Park without a win in 10 Championship fixtures, although they have drawn the last two.

Their other away matches have resulted in draws at Sheffield Wednesday and Hull (both 1-1) and Preston (2-2) while they have been beaten at Barnsley (3-0) and Ipswich (5-2).

At the Stadium of Light, they have drawn with Derby and QPR, last Saturday, (both 1-1) and lost to Leeds (2-0), Sheffield United (2-1), Nottingham Forest (1-0) and Cardiff (2-1).

Simon Grayson took over as manager in the summer and vastly overhauled the squad in a bid to bounce back to the top flight at the first attempt.

And that is where Sunderland have spent most of their time in recent years with membership of the Premier League for 10 of those 12 campaigns.


Simon Grayson was the second longest-serving manager in the Championship, behind Ipswich’s Mick McCarthy, when he left Preston to join Sunderland in the summer.

Grayson had become North End’s fifth boss in four seasons when he joined the club in February 2013. He led them into the play-offs the following season, where they lost in the semi-finals to Rotherham, before guiding them to promotion in the play-off final 12 months later against Swindon.

Preston were the fourth team he had taken out of League One following Blackpool, Leeds and Huddersfield.

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Grayson made more than 400 appearances in his playing career as a midfielder or full-back for Leeds, Leicester, Aston Villa, who paid £1.3m for his services, Blackburn, Sheffield Wednesday, Stockport, Notts County, Bradford City and Blackpool.

While at Leicester he collected a Coca-Cola Cup winners medal during the 1996/97 campaign in which he was also voted as the Foxes’ player of the season.

He retired from playing at the end of the 2005/06 campaign to focus fully on management at Bloomfield Road and took full charge the following season.


Saturday will be the first league meeting between Brentford and Sunderland for more than 24 years.

It is only the fourth season since World War Two that we have met for points and only the third in the last 30 years.

Sunderland did the double over us in the first season after the war as we were relegated from the old Division One and did it again when we next met in the old Division Three in 1987/88.

However, things were different the last time we met in our solitary season in what is now the Championship (then called Division One) in 1992/93.

We were holding our own in the top half of the table and visited Roker Park on the back of two successive league victories in mid-December. Gary Blissett gave us an early lead from a corner and although Shaun Cunnington equalised on the stroke of half-time, second half goals from Micky Bennett, thanks to an error from goalkeeper Tony Norman, and a second from Blissett sealed a 3-1 win.

The only sour note was an injury to Chris Hughton, which ended up finishing his playing career.

By the time of the return game on a Tuesday night in early April, things were getting desperate for us, as well as our visitors, and a run of only three wins in 17 games had seen us plunge down the table.

Marcus Gayle gave us hope with a first half goal, but Don Goodman equalised after the break and the game finished 1-1.

We have only met once since then – in the fourth round of the FA Cup in 2006 – but it was a memorable day for Bees fans as our League One outfit beat the struggling Premiership side 2-1.

DJ Campbell gave us the lead early in the second half and although Julio Arca equalised as his cross deceived Stuart Nelson, Campbell grabbed the headlines with a dramatic last-gasp winner.

The match was one of the featured games on Match of the Day that night, a rare appearance on the show for the Bees, but it proved to be a double-edged sword as the publicity probably persuaded Steve Bruce to sign Campbell for Birmingham on transfer deadline day three days later – a deal which ultimately almost certainly ended up costing us automatic promotion.


BBC Newcastle’s Sunderland commentator Nick Barnes, who has covered the club’s games since 2003, looks at Saturday’s visitors and tells us why they have made such a poor start to the season, the difference between working at Premier League and Championship matches and his memories of an untimely interruption in the Griffin Park press box.

Q – What were the general expectations from Sunderland fans at the start of the season – immediate promotion, consolidation or relegation battle – and why?

A – I think there was initially a hope Sunderland would bounce straight back as they have the past couple of relegations but with the lack of funds for Simon Grayson and the number of players the club had to shed, most fans have reappraised their expectations and there is a general consensus the club will finish mid-table though they will hope they may make a push for the play-offs. Most I think would accept that though is unlikely this season.

Q – What has contributed to the side’s poor start?

A – There are a number of factors from lack of funds for players, losing the quality of player they had in the Premier League, a new manager being appointed and having to build a new squad and then a failure to sign another striker in the transfer window.

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Once the season started injuries have also taken their toll. Predominantly to Lewis Grabban and Aiden McGeady.  The back four has also been unsettled because of injuries and lack of form.

Q – What difference has Simon Grayson made to the club?

A – It’s early days and Grayson has had a rocky start to his Sunderland career. It’s definitely not been a bed of roses but he understands what the club means to the fans on Wearside and is trying to build a squad whose fundamental ethic is hard work and graft. There is some quality in the team, namely McGeady, McManaman, Williams and Watmore to name four, but the tenet that Grayson is trying to drive home is hard work.

Grayson knows the Championship inside out. The club is in dire need of stability after a number of job losses and money saving exercises which many fans feel is ripping the heart out of it, but Grayson is a steadying influence and is slowly turning things around. It’s going to be a long haul without question but most fans understand the need to back Grayson.

Q – What are the main differences you have noticed so far in covering Sunderland in the Championship as opposed to the Premier League?

A – From a commentator’s point of view it’s mainly the quality of the matches and the teams, however it is noticeable too how the media corps diminishes in the Championship. At Premier League matches there are myriad TV/radio/newspaper reporters. In the Championship it’s mainly tumbleweed in the press rooms! Oh – and the food. We miss the banquets laid on by most clubs in the Premier league!

Q – How do you think the season will eventually pan out for Sunderland or is still it too early to say?

A – It is early but with the squad not being the biggest and seemingly injury prone I would be very surprised if Sunderland finish in the top 10. I think anywhere between 10th and 15th is realistic.

Q – Have you ever covered Sunderland against Brentford before and if so, do you have any good or bad memories of previous trips to Griffin Park?

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A – I have. I was at Griffin Park for the FA Cup fourth round tie when Mick McCarthy was manager in 2006. DJ Campbell scored for Brentford to knock Sunderland out.

The afternoon hadn’t started well as an elderly steward insisted I and my colleague were in the wrong seats and seconds before we went on air was trying to unplug us!  It was hairy to say the least. Afterwards I recall Mick McCarthy crammed in the tiny press room down a few steps and rammed up against the tea boiler. He wasn’t happy!

Q – Which Sunderland players should we watch out for?

A – If he’s fit, Aiden McGeady. He is classy and skilful and when he’s on form can change a game. Duncan Watmore too for his pace.

Q – Which Bees players will you be wary of?

A – I’m actually an Exeter City fan but that aside I’d say Ollie Watkins. I thought Sunderland should have tried to sign him in the summer but he was never on their radar for some reason, though it’s also unlikely they could have afforded him such are the paucity of resources at the Stadium of Light.

“We’ve been battered into submission, and this has resulted in apathy creeping in alongside the frustration – something the club should be very worried about.”

Read more Sunderland views from Sobsy from Black Cats fanzine A Love Supreme (@ALS_Fanzine) here.


Centre-half Lamine Kone is fit to return against the Bees after missing last week’s draw against QPR because of illness.

Fellow central defender Ty Browning was also ruled out of that match and faces a fitness test ahead of the trip to Griffin Park.

Ex-Brentford striker Lewis Grabban, who had three separate spells on loan to us between 2010 and 2011, made his comeback from an injury lay-off as a second half substitute last Saturday.

Other names to watch out for in the squad are former Manchester United defender John O’Shea and Aiden McGeady, who scored twice against us for Preston in February.

Possible Sunderland line-up:

Steele; Matthews, O’Shea, Browning, Oviedo; Cattermole, Ndong  McManaman, McGeady, Watmore; Vaughan.

If Sunderland play 4-4-2 then Callum McManaman and McGeady will be the wide players. If not then McGeady will have a free role behind James Vaughan.




For Sunderland fans coming down, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be).

We are now back to the traditional four pubs around the ground, following the reopening of the Royal Oak.

The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal and the Royal Oak are the other options.

Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is the Beesotted pre-match pub. This boozer & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other …. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.

The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields. The ‘Northfields run’ makes a much better pub crawl route than South Ealing – getting off at Northfields station, turning left and stopping off at The Plough (2 min walk), The Lord Nelson (10 min walk from The Plough) & The Globe (1 min walk from The Nelson) en-route before ending up at The Griffin (8 min walk from The Globe) by the away turnstiles.

There’s also a relatively new tiny microbrewery pub in Northfields called The Owl and The Pussycat (Northfields Ave)– right turn out of the station away from the ground as opposed to left.

There is a pub right by Brentford station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.

For ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman (Ealing Road) can probably hold 15 of you at a push.

The Brewery Tap (Catherine Wheel Road) is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit One Over the Ait (Kew Bridge Road) – a spacious boozer right next to Kew Bridge with a beer deck overlooking the river – and The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel.

A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many many more too if you have a look around.

Parking is pretty easy away from the ground going up towards and over the A4 Great West Rd (ie. North) via Ealing Road or Windmill Road.

Getting to Brentford from town – many fans get the tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee lines) or Vauxhall (Victoria Line) then take the Overground train to Brentford.

This is relatively straight forward but can actually take longer than if you get the tube due to waiting times (overground trains come every 15 mins and the journey from Vauxhall or Waterloo to Brentford is 30 mins on the fast train – 51 mins on the slow train – so you could find it takes you over an hour including the journey from Kings Cross/Euston/Paddington).

Many fans choose the tube over the overground. It’s 35 minutes to Northfields station from Kings Cross or Euston (less from Paddington) and then 15 minutes walk to Brentford from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford pub crawl outlined above (Plough, Lord Nelson, Globe, Griffin) of course. If you’re feeling lazy you could take the E2 bus from outside Northfields station to either outside The Globe pub (3 stops – serves The Lord Nelson too) or Brentford FC (4 stops).

You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.



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About The Author

Ian Westbrook

Bees fan since 1971 - been through all the ups and downs. Written about, reported on, commentated on and wittered on about all things Brentford in that time as well as watching hundreds, if not thousands of games, and loved every minute of it!

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