Gareth Ainsworth says he’ll be a proud man to walk into the Stadium of Light as manager of table-topping Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday, but insists his squad remain grounded, carrying the underdog tag going into battle with former Premier League side Sunderland.
Many of the Wanderers fans that made the long trip north last season might have expected it to be a once-in-a-lifetime meeting of the two clubs in a league fixture, with the Black Cats heavily tipped to return to the Championship at the first time of asking, and few would have expected Wycombe’s second visit to see them sitting above Sunderland in the table.
But with Phil Parkinson’s men enjoying a recent upturn in form as they bid to enter the promotion race in the second half of the season, Ainsworth says his team know to expect a fiercely difficult challenge once the whistle is blown on a ‘special occasion’ at the division’s most prestigious stadium.
“It’ll be an honour for me to be taking Wycombe Wanderers to such a huge club, and I’m sure I’ll have a little flutter in me as we walk through the front door. There might be some fans who try to turn this game on its head and suggest we’re now the bigger club because of where we are in the league, but I have nothing but respect for everyone at Sunderland. This is still David against Goliath, and we’re still the David in this scenario, but hopefully we can get our slingshot right and take down another giant in this division.”
“We’ll need all the experience of our generals in the squad to help set the tone and make sure the boys are ready. We’ll embrace the moment and enjoy stepping out at the Stadium of Light, but once we get over the white line it’s business as usual and we’ll be doing all we can to get something from the game.”
Ainsworth also hopes to be boosted by the return to fitness of key trio Dominic Gape, Curtis Thompson and Jack Grimmer for the trip north, while there’s good news on Fred Onyedinma, who scored Wycombe’s goal in the 1-1 draw at Sunderland last season.
“Dom has had a hamstring issue which we hope will be resolved for the weekend. He, Curtis and Jack walk into the team when they’re fit and they’ve been sorely missed and will be in contention. Fred is also back out on the training pitch and he’ll be like a new signing for us this month, whereas last January we lost him back to Millwall at the end of his loan spell and really missed him in the second half of the season.”