Sunderland boss takes a close look at West Ham United

ANOTHER CHANCE TO SHINE: Connor Wickham.
ANOTHER CHANCE TO SHINE: Connor Wickham.
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A KNEE injury kept Gus Poyet sidelined for his weekly press conference yesterday, as the Black Cats boss visited a specialist.

A bout of head tennis on the training field several weeks ago had aggravated an old injury from his playing days.

But while Poyet may have been sidelined, it has not stopped the Sunderland boss from carrying out his meticulous preparations on Monday’s opponents West Ham United.

Once the dust had settled on Wednesday’s trip to Liverpool, Poyet immediately sat down to watch the Hammers’ 2-1 midweek win over Hull. Then he watched it again. And again.

It is a habit which is contagious throughout his backroom team. First-team coach Charlie Oatway has cast his eye over the Hammers, so too has assistant manager Mauricio Taricco.

And with every Premier League encounter providing different challenges, Oatway believes it is essential that the homework is done before devising a strategy.

“Gus has looked at West Ham three times already, I’ve looked at them once and you have to do that,” said Oatway.

“Every game is different.

“Then you can make your decisions based on what you see.”

Poyet’s principle selection dilemma from his research will again revolve around the make-up of his attack.

After trialing a 5-3-2 formation at Liverpool on Monday night, Poyet looks likely to persist with a front two after predominantly using one central striker this season.

Poyet has already indicated that Connor Wickham will keep his starting spot and with on-loan Liverpool forward Fabio Borini available again after missing the trip to his parent club, the Sunderland boss must decide whether to recall the Italian at the expense of Jozy Altidore.

“Borini probably does look the most liable to score and Connor has given himself a good chance,” said Oatway.

“There’s a good chance that Connor and Borini will play, but there’s also a good chance that Jozy will play.

“We’ll discuss that over the next few days and see in the next couple of training sessions.”

Oatway is realistic enough to admit though that selection decisions, formations or preparation will only get Sunderland so far.

All that really matters is the outcome.

Sunderland can ill-afford to register anything less than victory, to ensure they remain in contention with those above them - particularly considering the subsequent four games are against Spurs, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea.

Yet that has been said before this season and the Black Cats have failed to make the most of their ‘winnable’ fixtures at the Stadium of Light.

Oatway added: “It’s not only a problem playing at home, it’s a problem playing away for us too. That’s why we are where we are in the league.

“Let’s not beat about the bush.

“We need to get some points somehow and West Ham now has become the biggest game of our season.

“We need our players to play the way we want them to be.

“If they keep doing that, I’m sure we can get it out of it and get a result against West Ham.

“We do need to gamble a little bit, but we’ve got 90 minutes, so we’ll have to see how the game pans out first.”