WISE MEN SAY: Sunderland ready for Everton test

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HANDS up who predicted that win then?

Hmmm.

It may mean little to players and managers when a club has an awful record against a certain club hovering over it – or even constantly failing to win on a certain day! But it will sure feel nice for the fans to win in the Premier League, on a Monday night, at a ground that historically brings little joy.

We can all acknowledge that there’s little to choose between 10 or 11 teams in this division and mastering the small margins in individual games is often the difference between staying up and going down. Though this was no classic performance by Sunderland, it was a ruthless and clinical showing against a side that will always give you a chance or two in a game.

Neil Warnock is no Tony Pulis and has his work cut out if he thinks the home side were brilliant. And from a Sunderland perspective, this was arguably only the second game in the league this season where you looked and thought they really needed to win. The other was at home to Stoke.

Two tests passed there at least.

So what’s expected in a home game against Everton? When you speak of dreaded “bogey teams”, the Merseysiders are perhaps comfortably perched at the top. But it can’t be ignored that the last two seasons have brought extremely important wins in both the home and away versions of this fixture for the Black Cats.

For all Paolo Di Canio’s obvious flaws and failings as a manager, he seemed unstoppable following a tremendous derby win on Tyneside with the first league victory over Everton since 2002. It was to be the final win of the season as we stumbled over the line.

Though last season’s victory came at Goodison, it was incredibly crucial and noteworthy. Ending Everton’s long unbeaten run at home in the league really sparked a sense of belief in the stands.

Despite their slower start, Roberto Martinez’s men will be clear favourites. I’ve had many a moan about how Sunderland never seem to get one favourable fixture follow another but the fact of the matter is, this is the Premier League and you never know who’ll beat who. There is no reason to fear Everton, despite them being a fine side.

Sunderland proved this theory more than anyone last season.

But moving from that clichéd analysis onto some more, there is currently a striker proving a point at present. Insert whichever generic theory you like here, from strikers needing goals for confidence, to them needing better service to score more goals.

There’s a truth to it all and Steven Fletcher is the present subject of the ongoing case study. I feel it was right to question his ability to play as a lone striker previously.

His performances against Stoke and Palace were reminiscent of his first few months on Wearside when he had Stephane Sessegnon as close company, but there had been little to suggest that form would ever be replicated in the systems Gus likes to use.

And Gus himself obviously agreed. Since his return from the very short spell in the wilderness, it’s Fletcher alone who’s changed. Sure, the service has been better in the mentioned games, but it is he making smarter runs. It is he with the improved body language and it is he increasing that chance conversion rate back to where it was.

Hopefully it’s enough to put the opposition’s defence on alert on Sunday; extra attention placed on the Scottish striker may result in space being opened up elsewhere. Connor Wickham could be one of the benefactors, but he’d very much have to repeat his performance against Stoke after a few questionable efforts of late.

It makes you wonder who’s saying what in those contract negotiation meetings. There’s a leaf to be taken out of Steven Fletcher’s book.

– Stephen Goldsmith

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.