SUNDERLAND 10 YEARS AGO: On guard at Palace, Elliott misses out

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Here’s what the Echo was reporting on SAFC 10 years ago today.

BE ON YOUR GUARD AT THE PALACE

SUNDERLAND could easily be sucked back among the Championship also-rans of they don’t keep their feet to the pedal, warns Darren Ward ahead of tonight’s Crystal Palace.

The Black Cats have edged to the brink of a play-off place in recent weeks after sitting only four points above the relegation zone just over a month ago.

But goalkeeper Ward says promotion – automatically or via the play-offs – will only be possible if Roy Keane’s men maintain their intensity.

He said: “We’re one of the teams – Crystal Palace is another – that will think it has the potential to get up into the promotion picture.

“There are a few clubs with a lot of Premiership experience and Palace, though they have struggled for results, still have good players so we won’t take them lightly.

“We have put a run together without playing particularly good, attractive football in some of the recent games. We’ve managed to scrape wins out of draws and draws out from possible defeats through showing tremendous desire.

“We though this run would have us higher in the league, but the other teams up there have shown a high level of consistency at the same time.

“We’re going into a crucial part of the season now. By the middle of January early February, the league table will probably have settled down into the sort of shape it will have at the end of the season.

“Progress is being made but we could easily fall away again with a couple of defeats during this Christmas period and we have to make sure that we don’t take anything for granted.”

Sunderland were 17th in the Championship before they started a run of seven games without defeat to lift Keane’s men to within three points of the play-offs and nine points from the top two.

Ward admits there has been an element of luck along the way.

But he added: “It’s funny how many teams at the top of the table also seem to get the luck. You do need fortune on your side but you win more luck by working hard and never giving up.

“We might have been lucky to get a draw at Burnley last weekend, but you could also say it was down to belief and tenacity and fighting for each other to the death in games. Hopefully it bodes well for the future that we are getting results without playing our best.”

Ward clocked up the 550th appearance of his career at Burnley last weekend and is not fazed by the festive programme of four games in ten days,

“It’s part and parcel of football and I’ve got used to it,” he said.

“I dare say there will be a time not far into the future when there will be a winter break for a couple of weeks, but these are the games we have to play, it’s the same for all the teams and we get on with it.

“A positive run through Christmas can transform the season for some clubs so it’s not all bad news.”

ELLIOTT MISSES OUT ON CAPITAL VISIT:

ROY KEANE takes his players into tonight’s game against Crystal Palace knowing he will have to make at least on change.

An ankle injury has robbed him of the services of striker-turned-winger Stephen Elliott, who now seems certain to miss the match.

And the game also looks to have come too soon for recovering full-back Nyron Nosworthy.

Keane said: “Nyron’s making good progress towards full fitness after the stomach strain. But I feel as though the Palace match is likely to be a couple of days too soon.”

The manager will not worry unduly about the continued absence of Nosworthy, knowing Dean Whitehead has been an excellent deputy in the absence of the former Gillingham man.

But Elliott’s injury means the manager must consider some interesting options further up the field.

He could look to go 4-5-1 and flood the midfield behind Daryl Murphy – using Ross Wallace, Grant Leadbitter, Graham Kavanagh, Dwight Yorke and Liam Miller.

However, with Palace struggling, he is more likely to field two strikers – Murphy and David Connolly and look to select a four-man midfield.

Whatever option he chooses, he knows it will be a tough challenge taking on Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

He said: “Palace are a good team with a good squad who probably haven’t done as well as they would have hoped so far. But there’s a long way to go in the season yet, and like us, they’ll be hoping to climb the table over the Christmas period.

“They’ll be difficult opposition but we’ve got to worry about ourselves rather than them. As long as we do ourselves credit then I’ll be happy.

“Against Burnley the other week we made another slow start. In fact, the slow start lasted about 70 minutes! And we have to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

“We are a long way from being the finished article just yet, but we are a good team when we get into our stride. And what I’ll be looking for from the players tonight is for them to make a positive start to the game.”

The manager added that goalkeeper Ben Alnwick and striker Chris Brown are both now fully fit and available for selection this evening.