Wise Men Say: Strap yourselves in for Cats’ biggest match of the season

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THERE were two occasions last season that I recall Sunderland fans nervously watching weekend results come in through the gaps in their fingers, having to wait until Monday before watching their own side play.

Crystal Palace beat Chelsea two days before West Ham won at the Stadium of Light and Fulham won at Villa Park a couple of days before the horrific 5-1 thrashing at Spurs.

It felt like the end of the world on both occasions.

The fact the latest weekend’s fixtures were played out without any real concern and totally free of our emotional attachment, should be a reminder to some that we’re still ridiculously early into the season.

The fact Sunderland finished 14th and ahead of sides like Hull and Aston Villa should highlight that the dynamics of the Premier League can change from as late as April, never mind from the ten game mark.

Eventually, Crystal Palace finished 11th and 12 points clear of the bottom three from that point.

Anything really can happen.

The Black Cats aren’t dead-on-arrival just yet, despite what some in pubs across Wearside will have you believe.

But enough of all that, allow me to be gloomy. It would be naive at best to suggest that should Sunderland roll over tonight then things are all rosy.

It would be downright insulting to claim all is in hand, or to then try to offer a guarantee that a turbulence-free season lies ahead should we surrender in typical Sunderland-esque fashion.

And it’s not like the historical factors can fill you full of confidence either.

Sunderland haven’t won on a Monday night since the wheel was invented and Crystal Palace rank alongside Everton as big players on the “bogey team” list. Particularly at Selhurst Park.

The lack of confidence from certain players going into the game is palpable. On current form, we have an error-prone goalkeeper and calamitous centre-half.

The two real creative outlets, Alvarez and Giaccherini, are injured. Besides the Stoke game, we also appear shot-shy and harmless. There’s a workable analogy about Halloween leading up to this game, I’m sure there is.

But you know what? Trying to adopt some perspective, there’s no reason Sunderland can’t get a result.

While Neil Warnock has offered some continuity to the hard work of Tony Pulis last season, his sides aren’t the most dynamic around. With respect.

Gus proved soon after his arrival that he can adapt tactically and there’s a strong argument suggesting he needs to tweak things or make a subtle change; something, anything, to find a little spark.

Because no matter how down people are today, before the Southampton debacle Sunderland looked very decent and certainly hard to beat.

I’m convinced that the side, and club as a collective, is still wobbling in its 10-count from that huge blow, and has the ability to come back stronger. As corny as that sounds, I really do.

But all that said, the bare minimum required is to match the effort and desire of our hosts, and to keep concentration levels at 100 per cent. The first two boxes were ticked against Arsenal, but clearly the third wasn’t.

Make no mistake, despite the gulf in quality between tonight’s opposition and last Saturday’s, any similar lapses will likely be punished as ruthlessly.

Palace have a strong affinity to their ground and fans and will be smelling blood in this fixture. We can sometimes over-complicate football and, first and foremost tonight, Gus has to have his players prepared to win their battles and match their opponents’ attitude.

Only then can any tactical masterplan or successful strategy be implemented. The reality is Sunderland don’t have the players to just turn up thinking they can beat anybody.

It feels like the biggest match of the season by some distance. Strap yourselves in.

* The Wise Men Say podcast is available from every Monday, with SAFC debate from a variety of guests and post-match reaction from Gus Poyet. You can be stream it direct from wisemensay.co.uk or subscribe to it on iTunes.