SUNDERLAND head to Portsmouth Fratton’s Park tomorrow for the decisive second leg of their play-off semi-final.

The game is finely poised, with the Black Cats defending a one-goal lead from the first leg at the Stadium of Light.

Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson highlights some key questions that will help determine who comes out on top on Thursday night.


This will be the fifth meeting between the two sides this season, and the previous four have been increasingly fractious affairs.

Sunderland have had two red cards in their games against Portsmouth, and last weekend’s first leg ended with a number of players pushing and shoving in the centre-circle after the final whistle. Pompey defender Christian Burgess was especially agitated in the closing stages, and might well have got himself sent off if the game had been five or ten minutes longer.

A sold-out Fratton Park will be a bear pit tomorrow, with the atmosphere sure to be feverish. Sunderland’s players have to make sure they do not boil over, while Portsmouth’s have to draw energy from the home support rather than be fazed by the intensity of the occasion.


The simple answer is, ‘Nobody knows’. Both Aiden McGeady and Jack Ross thought the Irish winger had recovered from his foot injury sufficiently to line up in Saturday’s game on Wearside, but those plans were scuppered when he felt considerable pain and was forced to pull out in the warm-up.

The plan ahead of tomorrow’s match is for McGeady to have a painkilling injection to try to numb the pain in his foot, enabling him to get through the game. The Irishman has been Sunderland’s most effective attacker all season, and Ross is understandably desperate to get him on the field.

Will he be able to line up at Fratton Park? And if he is, how effective will he be? A fit McGeady would be a potent asset. A half-fit one might be a liability.


It wasn’t just Sunderland who were without one of the leading attacking assets on Saturday night. Portsmouth had hoped to have Brett Pitman available, but a hamstring problem meant Kenny Jackett had to rewrite his plans.

He might not be as explosive as McGeady, but in his own way, Pitman is equally as important to Pompey as his fellow injury doubt is to Sunderland. He tends to play in the ‘number ten’ role behind Ollie Hawkins, and is the crucial link between Portsmouth’s midfield and attack.

Without him, Pompey looked surprisingly one-dimensional on Saturday night, but Kenny Jackett is hoping he will pass a fitness test to enable him to line up for the second leg. If he fails to make it, Sunderland will gain a significant advantage.


In Portsmouth’s first three matches against Sunderland this season – and particularly in the latter half of the Checkatrade Trophy final at Wembley – Jamal Lowe posed a succession of problems for the Black Cats defence.

His right-side relationship with full-back Nathan Thompson has been one of Pompey’s brightest link-ups all season, but on Saturday, neither player was able to offer much of a threat in Sunderland’s defensive third.

Bryan Oviedo stuck close to Lowe and marked him out of the game, while Lewis Morgan provided some valuable cover during his time on the field. If Sunderland are going to triumph tomorrow, they will have to ensure Lowe is shackled once again.


Sunderland huffed and puffed for the opening 55 minutes of Saturday’s game, but their attacking threat was transformed once Chris Maguire came on to the field. Suddenly, the Black Cats had a forward player whose first thought was to drive towards goal and look to unleash a shot rather than play safe.

Ross must be sorely tempted to play Maguire from the start tomorrow, although that would not be a move without risks. Whereas he is a dangerous player going forward, Maguire’s defensive work and willingness to adhere to defensive instructions can sometimes be open to debate.

Will Ross take the positive option and play Maguire ahead of either Morgan or George Honeyman, players who tend to be better at tracking back? And if he does, will his boldness be rewarded?