Sunderland v Peterborough match analysis

Jozy Altidore could partner Fabio Borini tonight
Jozy Altidore could partner Fabio Borini tonight
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KEVIN BALL inherited an irretrievable situation during his first coming as Sunderland caretaker-manager, writes Chris Young.

Sunderland were already a Championship side in all but name and Ball was simply charged with steering the ship until a new era began under Niall Quinn and then Roy Keane.

Seven years and fourth months later, the situation is very different.

For one, Ball’s tenure is likely to be limited to two or three games while Sunderland cast their net for Paolo Di Canio’s successor.

And secondly, there is such a large chunk of the season remaining for the Black Cats to avoid the fate of relegation which has loomed so large, even at this tender stage of the campaign.

But Ball’s second temporary spell is no less challenging.

Again, he takes control of a side languishing at the foot of the Premier League table, with confidence at rock-bottom levels from the weekly cycle of defeats.

There is no better candidate to take charge of the club on a short-term basis though.

The former Sunderland skipper eats, sleeps and breathes red and white, and far from being daunted by the situation he inherits, the development coach will relish it.

Privately, Ball may even sniff the opportunity for a longer stint in charge, if results prove to be sufficiently impressive.

And while the 48-year-old is a firm believer in the merits of a disciplined approach, he will also have come across as a balanced, sympathetic figure in the Sunderland dressing room after the roller-coaster ride of Di Canio.

As was the case when Di Canio replaced Martin O’Neill, there will surely be a reaction tonight from those players.

Both at West Brom on Saturday and in the heated team meeting less than 24 hours later, Sunderland’s players had reached breaking point with Di Canio.

The shackles will be released tonight and a sense of basic enjoyment returning to players who had grown sick of Di Canio’s constant public posturing.

Selection-wise, Ball is unlikely to follow Di Canio’s lead of wholesale changes on a match-by-match basis.

Ball will be forced to replace Steven Fletcher in the starting XI after the Scot’s dislocated shoulder at the Hawthorns and Jozy Altidore is the obvious contender to take his place.

The American international will get a taste of what needs to be a productive partnership with Fabio Borini, before the Italian is ineligible to face parent club Liverpool on Sunday.

And there may be a change in midfield too, with tonight a prime opportunity for Lee Cattermole to get some much-needed match fitness under his belt.

But Sunderland need some continuity in selection and the chance to develop some partnerships on the field. It was something Di Canio never did, even though he constantly identified the problems with communication between his players.

Sunderland cannot afford to field a weakened team either against a Peterborough side who will sniff an upset.

The League One high-fliers thumped Reading 6-0 in the last round and in record signing Britt Assombalonga, they have one of those young, hungry strikers who will be desperate to further his blossoming reputation.

But there is a sense that Sunderland will begin life without Di Canio on the front foot.

Ball’s last Stadium of Light outing in charge resulted in the only home victory of that infamously dismal 2005-06 campaign and tonight should have the same result.

Verdict: Home win