Three key areas for Sunderland to win three-in-a-row at Everton

Wes Brown in action for Sunderland during their 2-0 win away to Everton. Picture by FRANK REID
Wes Brown in action for Sunderland during their 2-0 win away to Everton. Picture by FRANK REID
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Sam Allardyce will aim to break a painful pattern of anti-climax this weekend after Sunderland’s previous four derby wins have all been followed by defeat.

It would be a timely boost for Sunderland to buck that trend, with the third-bottom Black Cats still two points adrift of safety.

Here are the three key areas for Sunderland, if they are to record three successive wins at Goodison Park for the first time since 1904.

1. Can a makeshift central defensive partnership cope?

Wes Brown and Sebastian Coates thrived as a central defensive unit in Sunderland’s critical 2-0 win at Everton in May, and could be paired together again tomorrow with John O’Shea and Younes Kaboul both major doubts.

It is conceivable that Allardyce could turn to ex-Everton man Jack Rodwell as a makeshift central defender – something which Dick Advocaat had considered – but Coates and Brown are the only specialist alternatives available in the heart of the back four.

However, Coates has looked shaky on several occasions this season, while, more alarmingly, Brown hasn’t kicked a ball competitively since last season’s encounter at Goodison.

Against the pace and power of Everton frontman Romelu Lukaku, this will be a huge test of Sunderland’s defensive improvement under Allardyce.

2. How will Allardyce re-organise his midfield?

The recurrence of Ola Toivonen’s groin injury was a blessing in disguise in the derby after the Swedish international had endured a miserable opening half-hour.

But, while he has had to shake off the rust, Toivonen has shown plenty of encouragement as an effective link-man between midfield and attack during the early stages of his Sunderland career.

Without the injured Toivonen, does Allardyce merely attempt to make Sunderland more resilient in the middle of the park by introducing a Jordi Gomez or Seb Larsson?

Or is there a case for moving derby hero Adam Johnson into the number 10 role and recalling Fabio Borini after the Italian international underwent a pain-killing injection on his ankle injury?

3. Will Everton be vulnerable at the back?

Everton have a potential £40million of talent in the heart of their back four in John Stones, but they are short of their two most experienced defenders this weekend, in Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines.

Teenager Brendan Galloway has been filling in for Baines at left-back after only making his Premier League bow last May.

But there will be more scrutiny on £9.5m summer signing Ramiro Funes, who has started just two top-flight games since his arrival from Argentina.