Sam Allardyce believes Jermain Defoe can again inspire Sunderland to safety.
The Crystal Palace manager, who oversaw Sunderland’s unlikely escape from relegation last season, faces his former team at Selhurst Park tomorrow, and for the first time since he left to accept the England job in the summer.
His swift return to club management with Palace means he again finds himself in a relegation battle, this time alongside Sunderland.
Tuesday’s vital victory at Bournemouth – their first in the Premier League since Allardyce’s appointment – has also given them renewed confidence for the crucial league clash, in which they hope to secure three further points.
Allardyce, however, remains wary of the threat posed by Defoe.
The striker’s goals were the difference between relegation and survival for Sunderland last season, and though his successor David Moyes’ task looks even more difficult than his own 12 months ago, Allardyce is convinced the striker’s ability gives them a real chance.
“We have all got enough time, David has got enough time, to get us out of trouble,” said Allardyce.
“But Saturday, the distance we put between us and them will be big if we win.
“It is a big difference we are going to try and achieve.
“It was never going to be easy (for Sunderland to survive again). I hadn’t signed a player when I had left and that was far too long. And it wasn’t because I was going to England. It was because we couldn’t find the right player for the right money we had.
“So I hadn’t strengthened the squad by the time David took over and he didn’t have a lot of time to do that.
“He did in the end and all those players have to bed in so late. That is a disruption.
“(But) if you have got Jermain Defoe, you have always got a chance, as it was with me last year.
“I would say he is on a par with Nicolas Anelka (as the best striker I have worked with), which is a big statement.
“I would imagine that Jermain at 26, as Nicolas was when I got him, was probably as good.
“I am trying to follow the exact same programme now. We have got Christian (Benteke) with 11 (goals).
“Could he get 15, 16, 17? He could be our saviour. Different type, but he is a goalscorer.”
Only Patrick van Aanholt, of Palace’s four January recruits, is expected to start against Sunderland, meaning he will make his home debut against the team he had just left.
Mamadou Sakho will likely be among the substitutes because of a lack of match fitness, Jeffrey Schlupp will miss out with a hamstring injury, and Luka Milivojevic is not yet available because he awaits a visa.
While Allardyce is going all out for three points this weekend, he hopes both clubs avoid the drop.
“I told (Moyes) all about the club, all the strengths and weaknesses of the club and where he had to change, in all areas,” he said.
“I didn’t hold back on any type of information for him to take the club forward because while I want to beat him (on Saturday), I didn’t want to David to go there and for Sunderland to fail. I wanted them to push on.”