THIS Saturday’s game at West Ham is the biggest of the season.
We always knew December was going to be tough with games against clubs with Champions League aspirations and a big Capital One Cup quarter final.
But the most important games this month are against Norwich, Cardiff and starting this weekend, West Ham.
Sunderland desperately need to reel in those teams hovering above them in the table and West Ham come into that category.
Our record against teams expected to struggle is abysmal this season and we can’t afford to let that continue at all.
The games against Fulham, Palace, Stoke and Hull were all matches we could and should have got something from, but every one ended in defeat and more than often they were self-inflicted.
West Ham are only five points above us in the table and have only won one of their last eight Premier League games and the pressure is building.
Their fans will be expecting to win this game so Sunderland need to frustrate them and do whatever is necessary to increase that pressure.
I’ve always found the West Ham fans can create a great atmosphere at Upton Park when the team is ahead, but they can turn when things are not going well and anxiety can quickly spread to the team.
Andy Carroll is back in training now after being injured all season, but whether Saturday’s game comes too soon for him remains to be seen.
With the suspended Kevin Nolan and the injured Stewart Downing both missing, it might hasten his return.
I must admit, I’d much rather face West Ham without Carroll than with him in the team, as given the right service, he’s an obvious danger.
His injury must have been a massive blow to Sam Allardyce, as he was his marquee signing this summer and his whole tactical plan was set up to revolve around him.
I don’t see this game being a classic, it’s much likely to be a test of nerve and character, played under extreme pressure between two teams who have under-achieved and let down their supporters so far this season.