Five questions facing Sam Allardyce for Sunderland’s crunch clash with Bournemouth

Fabio Borini in action for Sunderland during their 2-2 draw at the Stadium of Light against West Ham United. Picture by FRANK REID
Fabio Borini in action for Sunderland during their 2-2 draw at the Stadium of Light against West Ham United. Picture by FRANK REID
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Sunderland have overcome two of their relegation rivals this month after recording back-to-back wins over Aston Villa and Swansea.

The Black Cats face another of those nerve-shredding encounters tomorrow, as they look to halve the six-point gap with newly-promoted Bournemouth.

But with the Cherries taking 14 points from their last eight games, what are the key questions facing Sam Allardyce to give Sunderland a much-needed victory in the battle to stay in the Premier League?

1. Will Vito Mannone take his chance?

Costel Pantilimon’s move to Watford came as little surprise after the Romanian emerged as the front-running goalkeeper to leave in the January transfer window.

Fellow stoppers Mannone and Jordan Pickford have started each of the last two games, and there is a case to be made for either being given the chance tomorrow.

But Mannone has been handed a show of confidence from Allardyce and judging by his performances against Liverpool and Aston Villa, the Italian has the ability to return to his form of 2013-14.

2. Does Fabio Borini automatically take the place of the departed Danny Graham?

Borini was evidently disgruntled at losing his place in the starting XI at Spurs, with the Italian’s body language in the pre-match warm-up saying everything about his mood.

Using Graham on the left flank was to provide Sunderland with an out-ball at White Hart Lane, yet it was clearly not the 30-year-old’s position and he had a severely limited impact.

But with Graham now joining Blackburn until the end of the season to signal the end of his Sunderland career, Borini is the obvious replacement to come straight back into the side.

3. Does new boy Dame N’Doye start?

N’Doye has had a full week’s training with his new team-mates after rubber-stamping the details of his work permit.

Unlike fellow January signing Jan Kirchhoff, N’Doye should not be drastically short on match fitness after 12 appearances for parent club Trabzonspor in the first half of the season.

N’Doye will be an option to play alongside or instead of Jermain Defoe, yet he is likely to be eased into the action as a substitute.

4. Can Sunderland contain Bournemouth’s new signings?

Bournemouth have wasted no time in splashing the cash this month after investing more than £17million in Benik Afobe, Lewis Grabban and loan signing Juan Iturbe.

All three are players hungry to prove themselves in the Premier League, with Afobe breaking his Cherries duck in last weekend’s 3-0 win over Norwich.

Sunderland have lost all three previous encounters this season when faced with newly-promoted teams and need to be much-improved in handling players who will run through proverbial brick walls to stay in the top flight.

5. Will Sunderland remain mentally strong?

Sunderland have held their nerve in do-or-die encounters against Aston Villa and Swansea, when defeat would have left the Black Cats with one foot in the Championship.

This is a tussle of similar magnitude, with Bournemouth able to pull nine points clear of Allardyce’s side if they can emerge victorious from their first visit to Wearside since 1989.

Allardyce has plenty in his camp who have experienced the mental pressures of a relegation battle, and they’ll need to draw on that knowledge tomorrow.