Big-match verdict: Sunderland can capitalise on Hull’s striking absences

Fabio Borini scores Sunderland's cup final opener against Manchester City. Picture by Frank Reid

Fabio Borini scores Sunderland's cup final opener against Manchester City. Picture by Frank Reid

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STEVE BRUCE revisited an old mantra after enjoying a successful return to the Stadium of Light last month.

“I’ve always said you live or die by your strikers in this division,” said Bruce after seeing January signings Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long both find the net in Hull’s 2-0 victory over Sunderland.

It was one reason why Bruce had been relieved of his duties as Sunderland manager.

After watching Darren Bent, Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck depart for various reasons and Fraizer Campbell suffer two cruciate injuries, Bruce realised he would struggle to boast such rich attacking options again.

He lost heart.

There was an air of resignation written all over his face and in his body language at the start of that final season in charge, before results and a fan backlash prompted Ellis Short to pull the trigger.

That was why Bruce splashed out almost £15million in transfer fees, along with bumper wage packets, for Jelavic and Long in January.

Perhaps long-term, those figures might seem over the odds, but, in terms of keeping Hull in the Premier League, they are peanuts.

Hull have been solid – nothing more – this season, yet adding that touch of panache to their attack has injected the momentum needed to reach the finishing line for survival.

But the absence of the cup-tied pair on Sunday is a huge boost for Sunderland’s chances of reaching Wembley for the second time within a month.

While likely replacements Yannick Sagbo and particularly Sone Aluko are a threat, neither are in the same mould as Jelavic or Long.

If Sunderland can avoid getting anyone sent off – having been reduced in numbers in both league encounters with the Tigers this season – Gus Poyet’s men can seal their place in next month’s semi-finals.

Of course, Sunderland must provide a goal threat themselves, particularly against a Hull side who are well-drilled at the back, albeit they conceded four times against Newcastle last weekend.

Deciding upon the right combination in attack at the KC Stadium will be Poyet’s chief selection dilemma.

Certainly, Sunderland’s starting XI is likely to be more offensive-minded than it was in the Capital One Cup final, when Jack Colback patrolled the left-hand side to prevent Pablo Zabaleta getting forward.

But does Poyet sacrifice one of his central midfielders to incorporate either Emanuele Giaccherini or Nacho Scocco out wide?

Or does Fabio Borini revert to a role on the flanks, so either Jozy Altidore or, more likely, Steven Fletcher can return to the side?

Given Borini’s performance in his favoured central role at Wembley, surely the on-loan Liverpool man must be maintained in that position.

It was the best performance by a Sunderland striker all season.

Poyet has to be wary of making too many changes too.

Although the Sunderland boss made nine in the last round to ease the fixture congestion on his squad, there is a week of recovery before the Black Cats are next in action in the crunch Stadium of Light clash against fellow relegation battlers Crystal Palace.

The only players who may need to be left out this weekend are those who were away on international duty in midweek.

Sunderland could do with a morale-boosting victory at the KC Stadium to build some momentum again after losing three of their last four games.

Poyet’s troops need to be bursting with self belief against Tony Pulis’s Palace.

The motivation of another trip to Wembley should not be overlooked either.

Supporters are clearly salivating at the prospect after the 4,000 ticket allocation for Hull was oversubscribed.

Surely, after such a memorable weekend in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley, Poyet and his players will be equally keen to return to the national stadium

With Hull lacking their two chief weapons, there is every chance that there will be another twist in a season which seems intent on avoiding a straightforward path.

Verdict: Away win

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