Big match analysis: Full-back to the future for Sunderland in Man City test

Sunderland's Craig Gardner (right) could be back at right-back tomorrow
Sunderland's Craig Gardner (right) could be back at right-back tomorrow
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GUS POYET was never going to win a popularity contest by recalling Phil Bardsley to the fold. But it was a pragmatic decision by the Sunderland boss.

Poyet was no fan of seeing midfielders shoehorned into full-back roles and wanted to put specialists into the positions.

Bardsley was one of only three natural full-backs on the club’s books, so Poyet adopted the view that beggars can’t be choosers.

But Poyet faces the uncomfortable situation of retracing his steps this weekend and turning again to a makeshift defender to plug the gap on one side of his defence.

With Andrea Dossena serving the second game of his three-match ban and Ondrej Celustka highly unlikely to feature after turning his ankle against Southampton on Wednesday, Bardsley is the only orthodox full-back available to Poyet.

The head coach could turn to Carlos Cuellar or Valentin Roberge at right-back or left-back respectively, yet, given the importance placed on full-backs being comfortable on the ball and getting forward under Poyet’s system, using either centre-half looks an outside bet.

The far more likely scenario is that either Jack Colback or Craig Gardner will find themselves back in defence, even if Poyet will be reluctant to move either of them from midfield.

Both relished a return to their natural roles against Southampton – Gardner given licence to support the lone striker from a midfield three, while Colback was able to join Ki Sung-Yeung in keeping the ball on the deck and sweeping it wide.

Using the pair in a five-man midfield suits those available to Poyet.

Sunderland looked far more effective with three in the middle of the park during Kevin Ball’s temporary stewardship, while Wednesday’s display was the most complete performance of Poyet’s reign so far.

Poyet will not be keen on making changes, but the injury to Celustka forces him to make at least one.

Should Emanuele Giaccherini fail to shake off the back injury which was plaguing him in the dying stages against Southampton too, it will be another blow.

Poyet introduced Steven Fletcher at the death to replace Giaccherini and he could do so again on Sunday.

But playing two strikers against one of the big boys would be a big risk and would disrupt a system which suits Sunderland.

Fair enough using an orthodox 4-4-2 in the derby, against a Newcastle side struggling for available centre-halves.

But it may be a case of either Fletcher or Jozy Altidore this weekend, with the latter hoping to impress visiting USA boss Jurgen Klinsmann.

While Celustka and possibly Giaccherini will be enforced changes, Poyet will hope to restrict further tinkering.

Seb Larsson is likely to replace Celustka, with either Colback or Gardner moving to full-back, while Fabio Borini is the most viable like-for-like replacement for Giaccherini.

But Vito Mannone has made a strong case to keep his place ahead of the returning Keiren Westwood, while Wes Brown will surely continue alongside John O’Shea at centre-half.

Brown’s pedigree has shone in the game-and-a-half since returning to the fold.

The former England international is a Rolls-Royce defender and if Sunderland can keep him fit to continue alongside former Manchester United team-mate O’Shea, it will be a significant boost to the club’s survival hopes.

Poyet will need Brown on-song on Sunday too against two of the Premier League’s most fearsome frontmen.

Sergio Aguero has nine goals in his last six games, while summer signing Alvaro Negredo boasts five in three.

For a Sunderland side that is yet to taste a Premier League clean sheet, that is a fearsome prospect.

City boss Manuel Pellegrini could shuffle his pack of course and, with Vincent Kompany still sidelined, he also has fitness doubts over Fernandinho and David Silva.

And if the title challengers do have a weakness, it’s clearly away from home after winning just one top-flight game on the road this term and conceding nine goals in five matches.

The Stadium of Light is not a place that City’s players would choose to end that travel sickness either after three successive defeats on Wearside.

If lightning could strike a remarkable fourth time, what a huge boost that would provide heading into the international break.

Verdict: Away win

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