LAST August, Michael Beale got his first competitive taste of life at the Stadium of Light. His QPR side visited Wearside in the opening month of the season, and clawed back a two-goal deficit to claim a 2-2 draw thanks to goals in the final three minutes from Ilias Chair and goalkeeper Seny Dieng.

Two things in particular stood out for the newly-appointed Sunderland boss – the warmth of the pre-match welcome afforded to him and his players by the staff at the Stadium of Light, and the hostility of the pre-match reception directed at QPR by the home supporters.

This afternoon, he will experience Sunderland’s stadium for the first time as a home head coach. Having been appointed as Tony Mowbray’s permanent successor on Monday, he has been counting down to the minutes to his debut appearance.

“I remember the QPR game last year really well,” said Beale. “The club had just come up and it was under Alex Neil at the time, and I remember that I messaged Dave Jones (non-executive director) afterwards, just to congratulate him on the feeling around the club.

“Firstly, when we arrived, the guys who received us when we came in the front doors, they were so warm, it was fantastic. Then when we went out onto the pitch, you feel the strength of the crowd straight away. The club was in such a buoyant place at that time. Who would have thought what would happen next?

“Alex left two or three weeks later, Tony (Mowbray) comes in and does a good job, and now I’m here. It’s going to be a really proud day for me – I’m really delighted that the first game is at home.”

Coventry City provide the opposition for Beale’s first game in charge this afternoon, and like Sunderland, the Sky Blues are targeting another top-six finish after missing out in the play-offs last season.


Mark Robins’ side lost their two best players in the summer, with Viktor Gyokeres heading to Portugal to join Sporting and Gustavo Hamer stepping up to the Premier League with Sheffield United, and it has taken a bit of time for new signings such as Ellis Simms, Tatsuhiro Sakamoto and Haji Wright to settle.

They have lost just one of their last seven matches though, and head into today’s game just six points below Sunderland in the table.

“I lived quite close to Coventry when I worked at Aston Villa and QPR, so I went to a couple of games,” said Beale. “I know the people behind the scenes there, and I know they’re 100 per cent behind Mark and his staff. They know the incredible work he does.

“They didn’t start so well last season because they had the issues with the pitch, but then they went on that fantastic run. They lost two incredible players in the summer – one to the Premier League and one to a huge club in Sporting Lisbon. They’ve recruited after that, and it’s taken a little bit of time to settle, but I have no doubt that Mark Robins, with his experience, and his assistant Adi Viveash, who I worked with at Chelsea many years, will get them there or thereabouts come the end of the season.

“Every day that we’re in front of Coventry is a good place for us to be at Sunderland. It’s a tough game to start with because I know them quite well, and they know me quite well too.”

It will be interesting to see how Beale lines his side up this afternoon, with caretaker boss Mike Dodds having played with three at the back during Sunderland’s last home game, the 1-0 win over Leeds United.

Dodds played without a recognised striker in all three of his games in temporary charge, but Beale watched Nazariy Rusyn push his claims for a return to the starting side with a goal for the Under-21s on Monday.

Sunderland (probable, 4-2-3-1): Patterson; Huggins, O’Nien, Ballard, Hume; Neil, Ekwah; Roberts, Bellingham, Clarke; Rusyn.