Big-match verdict: Pressure’s on Norwich, so can Sunderland capitalise?

Key Sunderland forward Fabio Borini holds off Palace's Jason Puncheon last week
Key Sunderland forward Fabio Borini holds off Palace's Jason Puncheon last week
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CHRIS HUGHTON couldn’t say anything else.

When the quirks of the fixture list were put to him earlier this week, the Norwich boss predictably insisted that his side were capable of winning any game.

But for those biting their nails on the Carrow Road terraces tomorrow, it’s a different matter.

The daunting final four games in Norwich’s bid for Premier League survival – against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal – are the sub-plot to the next three weeks for the Canaries.

Supporters who inevitably calculate where the points for survival will come from, will immediately write off those last four encounters as lost causes and bank on the victories coming from the next four.

On paper, they are far more winnable – Sunderland, Swansea, West Brom and Fulham.

But with that comes pressure.

Those last four games will be eating away on the minds of Norwich’s players and Hughton himself. Can they handle that stomach-churning burden of expectation at an edgy Carrow Road tomorrow?

In fairness, Norwich have done well on their own turf recently; certainly far better than Sunderland.

An unbeaten five-game run at home has seen them take a crucial haul of nine points, including victory over a desperately below-par Tottenham and a draw against Manchester City.

But four points against Spurs and City came when Norwich were firmly the underdogs. Tomorrow, the onus is on them to make the running.

Sunderland will appreciate the situation Norwich face after experiencing a similar scenario against Crystal Palace last weekend, although. in fairness, it was a lack of guile, rather than lack of composure, which hampered the Black Cats that day.

Gus Poyet will know, though, that this situation plays into Sunderland’s hands. They can sit back, increase the jitters in the stands by keeping possession and then look to hit the Canaries on the break.

It’s a strategy which served Sunderland well on their travels before their six-game unbeaten away run was abruptly ended at Arsenal last month.

It plays far more to the strengths of Poyet’s set-up, than huffing and puffing to break down dogged opposition at the Stadium of Light.

But if Sunderland are to be successful and record what would be a huge victory in the battle for survival, the goal concerns have to be addressed after a measly three in the last six outings.

Last week, the make-up of the attack was Poyet’s big selection dilemma and his vote of faith in Steven Fletcher didn’t pay off.

With Fletcher ruled out tomorrow, Poyet has to think again.

Jozy Altidore made little impression against Norwich in December’s dire stalemate on Wearside and the clamour for Fabio Borini to be put back into a central role has grown again this week.

Poyet would perhaps need to offer a reprieve for Emanuele Giaccherini – left out of the 18-man squad last weekend – for Borini to play centrally.

But the on-loan Liverpool frontman has produced the most convincing performance of any Sunderland striker this season.

Surely, that is the best hope for the Black Cats to get the goals needed for survival.

Hughton has a decision to make up front himself.

Does he stick with Gary Hooper as a lone striker or recall Ricky van Wolfswinkel or Johan Elmander to partner the former Celtic man?

For the former Newcastle boss, who has been under-fire from Norwich supporters throughout the campaign, the stakes are high.

They are equally big for Poyet though.

What a boost it would be for Sunderland if they can head to Anfield on Wednesday, for the first of their games in hand, with an extra three points on the board.

This one takes the baton from the Palace clash as the “biggest game” of the campaign.

It holds equal magnitude for Norwich though. It all depends on which side can handle that pressure cooker.

Verdict: Draw

Twitter @youngsunecho

* Don’t miss the biggest and best coverage of Sunderland’s trip to Norwich, plus Tony Gillan’s View From The Bridge, Brian Patterson’s away guide to Liverpool, Yesterdays and much more, in tomorrow’s online Football Echo – it’s available on from around 6.45pm