Chris Young’s big-match verdict: Sunderland are calling out for a hero!

Sunderland's Connor Wickham.
Sunderland's Connor Wickham.
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AFTER the depths of the display at Carrow Road, Sunderland need a hero.

They need a player who can rise above the anxious, scrappy, ugly football and find the composure to net that crucial goal or two in the relegation dogfight.

Jozy Altidore has proved incapable of doing that.

Nacho Scocco doesn’t look like he has the legs for it.

Fabio Borini could do, but not tonight.

So what about Connor Wickham?

Well, anyone thinking that Wickham will be Sunderland’s instant knight in shining armour is heaping too much onto the shoulders of the England Under-21 striker.

Successive managers at the Stadium of Light have all been unconvinced by Wickham and the 20-year-old’s contribution on the training field.

But the £8million frontman has scored goals at the Championship level – albeit none at Leeds where he was used in wide midfield role – and is desperate to prove he can make the grade in the Premier League.

What’s more, Altidore has had chance after chance to cut it at this level. Wickham hasn’t.

Steven Fletcher’s ankle injury will undoubtedly have been part of the reason behind Gus Poyet’s decision to recall Wickham, but so too will the powder-puff nature of Sunderland’s attack at Norwich.

Something else needs to be attempted and with no expectation riding on Sunderland’s shoulders at Anfield tonight, this is the perfect opportunity to hand Wickham what would be only his second start of the season, ahead of Monday’s pivotal visit of West Ham.

Poyet could of course retain the status quo and hand Altidore another opportunity, but on an evening when opportunities to counter-attack will be rare, Sunderland cannot afford to blow those chances through a repeat of the American’s slack control which hindered their hopes at Carrow Road.

It has been unfair to pin all the blame on Altidore for Sunderland’s display at Norwich though. Poyet’s side were woeful from back to front.

If Poyet ripped up the team sheet and started from scratch he couldn’t be blamed. He could have done that at half-time in Norfolk.

Lee Cattermole will surely return to the starting XI after injecting some bite and battle into Sunderland’s pitiful first half efforts at Norwich.

After much debate over whether they could line up alongside each other, the Cattermole and Liam Bridcutt partnership was decent in the second half against the Canaries and with Sunderland braced to be on the back foot for long spells tonight, the pair would represent a prudent layer of protection.

The make-up of the rest of the midfield will be far more intriguing.

Poyet could take the defensive-minded step of replacing Borini with Seb Larsson and using the Swede and Adam Johnson on the flanks. That would see either Ki Sung-Yueng or Jack Colback retain their spot in the middle.

Or Larsson could be used centrally alongside Cattermole and Bridcutt, with Emanuele Giaccherini introduced out wide for Borini.

It depends how radical Poyet wants to get in dismantling a side that was so poor in Norfolk.

One player almost certain to be handed a start is Andrea Dossena, with Marcos Alonso suspended and Ondrej Celustka playing 90 minutes for the Under-21s on Monday.

Dossena never convinced during his time at Liverpool and other than his debut in the Wear-Tyne derby, has struggled at Sunderland.

This is the ultimate test for the Italian.

Liverpool’s pace, fluidity and sheer speed of play has made them a devastating attacking force in the Premier League this season, particularly with by far the best front two in the top flight.

There doesn’t seem to be any hint of nerves or complacency among Brendan Rodgers’ side either. If anything, Liverpool are getting stronger by the game.

Generally, Sunderland have performed far better against the Premier League’s big boys this season than the lesser lights, and despite such a lacklustre showing at Norwich, you wouldn’t bet against the Black Cats raising their game again tonight.

But with the title very much in their sights, Liverpool won’t take their foot off the gas as they look to move within a point of pace-setters Chelsea.

Verdict: Home win