Chris Young verdict: Quality, not attitude, the biggest barrier to Sunderland at Spurs

Danny Rose
Danny Rose
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BROWS have been mopped, pulse rates have plummeted and tranquilliser prescriptions shredded.

Wearside has inhaled chunks of oxygen since Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Aaron Ramsey finally vanquished Wigan’s hopes of Premier League survival and ensured a dismal season for Sunderland avoided the ultimate calamity.

What would have been a hugely ominous final-day trip to White Hart Lane if Wigan had won on Tuesday night, is suddenly a dead rubber for the Black Cats.

So what if Spurs keep their hopes alive of a Champions League finish by beating Sunderland?

From what looked a pretty wretched situation two months ago, it is a case of mission accomplished.

Not that Paolo Di Canio sees it like that.

Di Canio has cracked the whip since Sunderland’s top-flight status was confirmed.

All talk of a fortnight on the sun-kissed beaches of Dubai has been outlawed; replaced by demands of finishing higher up the table than fourth bottom.

A point on Sunday could take Sunderland above Aston Villa, Fulham and Southampton, while all three could propel them as high as 11th.

But while any spoils in North London would be both a financial and motivational boost, it remains a highly unlikely scenario.

Sunderland’s desperately depleted side have had to claw and scrap their way over the finishing line, rather than concluding the campaign with a flourish like fellow strugglers Villa.

The quality that exists in Sunderland’s squad is largely missing, either through injury or suspension, and it has shown, both in the first half against Stoke and throughout a miserable encounter against Southampton last weekend.

Although the Black Cats have remained generally solid without their key figures, the lack of fluency or bite to the attack has been stark.

Spurs won’t be unduly worried by Sunderland’s depleted front-line and on the evidence of the last two games, neither should they be.

The loss of Danny Rose only compounds Di Canio’s problems in fielding a competitive side.

Doubtless, Andre Villas-Boas will again be quizzed in the aftermath of Sunday’s game about his plans for Rose.

Doubtless as well given Spurs’ penchant for playing hard-ball in the transfer market, Villas-Boas will repeat his claims that Rose is not for sale.

Sunderland’s hopes of landing the England Under-21 left-back in a permanent deal promises to be the transfer saga of the summer.

But for this weekend, Rose’s absence against his parent club is a mighty blow.

Prowess at full-back is a key component in containing a Spurs side who rely so heavily on the lightning pace out wide of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.

Central defender Matt Kilgallon was shoehorned into a left-back role when Spurs visited the Stadium of Light in December and despite a decent display from the hosts, Lennon was able to expose the makeshift full-back for the winner.

Jack Colback will almost certainly deputise for Rose and has rarely proved a liability in that role.

But Rose’s pace would have been a genuine asset in harnessing Bale or Lennon, who will alternate flanks in putting Sunderland on the back-foot.

With Colback dropping back into defence, Di Canio has a straight choice between introducing David Vaughan into a five-man midfield, or using Connor Wickham alongside Danny Graham in an orthodox 4-4-2.

Di Canio favours a two-man strike force, yet Vaughan would provide extra protection for a back-line that will inevitably be stretched.

Even if the head coach opts for a more ambitious approach though, it is difficult to see Sunderland providing a sufficient goal threat against a side with a multi-million pound carrot facing them for a place in the top four.

Arsenal may render Spurs’ efforts redundant by winning at St James’s Park – a result which would keep alive Sunderland’s hopes of finishing above their rivals.

But realistically, the title of North East top dogs will fall to Newcastle for a second successive year.

In the big picture though, Premier League survival is a far more important accolade.

Verdict: Home win