Big match analysis: Vital victory can move Sunderland in touching distance of pack

Will Andrea Dossena keep his place at left-back for the visit of Norwich?
Will Andrea Dossena keep his place at left-back for the visit of Norwich?
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THE CURSE of being bottom of the Premier League table at Christmas has not really sparked any high-pitched screaming on Wearside this week.

Only West Brom, in 2004-05, have managed to evade the drop after they were propping up the pack as the turkeys were being gobbled.

But opinion on the terraces seems to fall into two categories at the moment:

1. Sunderland are doomed anyway.

2. The more inviting home fixtures over the second half of the season will give them the opportunity to make light of trends over previous years.

Certainly, if Sunderland can secure a first win in six Premier League outings tomorrow, then being at the basement won’t seem so daunting with just a couple of points separating Gus Poyet’s side from those above them.

They would still need to win at least once, probably twice, in the subsequent three games, but at least it would edge Sunderland closer to the pack.

Realistically, anything less than victory this weekend must be considered a major blow to staying up though.

If the Black Cats are not yet drinking in the last-chance saloon, then they are getting their glad rags on in preparation for indulging there.

Another missed opportunity like Aston Villa or West Ham could prove to be fatal.

But at least Sunderland have mustered a degree of momentum after Tuesday’s stirring League Cup victory over Chelsea.

Sunderland’s players might have endured an extra 30 minutes on the legs, but that was preferable to what looked to be a routine victory for Chelsea in the second half, with the hosts lacking belief and urgency.

Crucially, Poyet’s men emerged victorious from extra time too. That feeling of euphoria at staging such a stirring comeback against Chelsea should block out any sense of fatigue.

Two of the pivotal figures in the Capital One Cup success, Ki Sung-Yeung and Fabio Borini, will surely return to the starting XI after getting a breather for the opening hour or so against Chelsea.

But will there be other fresh faces?

Perhaps Andrea Dossena may get a chance at left-back, but there has to be a suspicion that Sunderland’s line-up won’t look too dissimilar from the one at West Ham last weekend.

Norwich will have Ricky van Wolfswinkel available again after injury.

But Canaries boss Chris Hughton will be reluctant to drastically alter a side that has taken four points from the last two games.

Three of those points came at West Brom a fortnight ago, which provided some away cheer after several hidings on the road this season have led Norwich to concede more goals on their travels than any other Premier League side.

But just when the murmurs over Hughton’s future were starting to gather pace again, his players have responded, particularly summer signing Gary Hooper, who netted his fourth goal in six games last weekend.

Hooper is the obvious dangerman to provide the latest test to Wes Brown.

Yet tomorrow’s clash may be fought more in the mind than at the feet.

Norwich can relax slightly after recent results and have the decent incentive of reaching 20 points by Christmas.

But Sunderland need to overcome the inevitable trepidation and impose themselves in the same manner as a superb extra-time display against Chelsea.

Certainly, the Black Cats showed few signs of nerves at Upton Park last weekend, even if their finishing lacked composure. And in their current situation, there should be no “what if” to worry about for Sunderland’s players.

They know exactly what will happen if there is no upturn in their results.

That improvement has to begin tomorrow, otherwise Sunderland will look even more likely to become the latest victim of the Premier League’s Christmas curse.

Verdict: Home win

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