The Sunderland insight on Bailey Wright, Alex Neil and how they will up against Bristol City

Joe Nicholson from the Sunderland Echo gives his view on City’s former boss, Bailey Wright and also where the current club are at

Bristol City entertain Sunderland in front of a sold out crowd Ashton Gate on Saturday afternoon in their first home game of the Championship season.

The Robins are looking to get their campaign up and running following a frustrating 2-1 opening day defeat to Hull City, which was marred by a controversial penalty decision.

Keen to put last week’s frustrations behind them, City face a newly promoted team in Sunderland who picked up a point in their first game back in the second tier in four years.

We get the thoughts and opinions of Sunderland Echo’s Joe Nicholson, who tells us how Sunderland may line up and their views on former City defender Bailey Wright.

Firstly, what are the strengths and weaknesses of Sunderland?

Sunderland’s strength is that they have become very difficult to beat under Alex Neil.

After the Scot took over in February, the side lost just one of 18 matches as they won promotion via the play-offs - it’s now one in 19 following last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Coventry.

Neil has them well drilled and often matches the opposition up to nullify their threats.

The squad is quite young and lacks a bit of Championship experience, which showed in the second half against Coventry.

It was clear to see the step up in intensity from League One and it’s something Sunderland will have to get used to.

How do you expect Sunderland to line up at Ashton Gate come Saturday afternoon? Any injuries or suspensions too?

Neil said in pre-season he prefers to play with a 4-2-3-1 formation, yet his system often depends on how the opposition line-up.

As Bristol City play with a back three and wing-backs I expect Neil to play with a similar shape.

He should have a fully-fit squad to choose from, aside from Niall Huggins who missed most of last season with multiple injury setbacks.

Predicted XI: (3-4-2-1) Patterson; Cirkin, Batth, Ballard; Gooch, Evans, Neil, Clarke; Embleton, Pritchard; Stewart

What would you say the ambitions are of the Black Cats this season and is it achievable?

Sunderland will want do more than merely survive, yet there is an understanding of the step up in quality.

Out of the sides that have come up from League One in the last four seasons, the highest a promoted team has finished is 15th - a point Neil has pointed out.

He has also said he still wants to add four or five more signings to the squad, so recruitment will be key.

Bailey Wright is with Sunderland. He had a good few seasons at City before making that move to Sunderland. How has he fared since joining and what is the view of him?

It was a bit stop-start for Wright after joining Sunderland in January 2020.

First that season was cut short by the pandemic, then he missed part of the next campaign through injury.

He has been prone to the odd error but was excellent following Neil’s arrival last season, starting all 18 games under the Scot as Sunderland won promotion. He’s clearly a great leader as well.

He came back late for pre-season after helping Australia qualify for the World Cup and made a costly mistake, which led to a goal, in a friendly against Accrington Stanley a few weeks ago.

He was then left on the bench against Coventry last weekend.

What player will cause Bristol City the most problems on Saturday?

Playmaker Alex Pritchard was a class above in League One and was named man of the match against Coventry. His quality on the ball and workrate make him a key player for Sunderland.

Ross Stewart scored 26 goals in League One last season and will be hoping to get off the mark this term.

At the back, new signing Daniel Ballard looked good in pre-season and impressed against Coventry.

Obviously Alex Neil took charge at the start of the year, how different is his brand of football to Lee Johnson? Also what was the Sunderland view of LJ? Was his sacking back in January the right decision, which ultimately led to promotion?

While Neil still encourages his side to play out from the back when possible, there is far more emphasis on his side being organised out of possession.

Sunderland played some really nice football under Johnson, yet there were times when they struggled to adapt and overcommitted and were quite naive.

His sacking did seem a little harsh considering Sunderland were third in the league at the time, yet ultimately it proved to be the right decision.

The impact Neil has made in a short period of time has been hugely impressive.