NIGH-ON every relegation fight predictor completed by Sunderland’s faithful over recent weeks has had one result in common.
When totting up where the points would come from for Premier League survival, the overwhelming majority of those looking at the dogfight through red and white spectacles pinpointed the visit of Leicester as the sure-fire three points.
The Foxes have been a runaway train surging up the table; banishing hopes on Wearside, Tyneside and Humberside that a points tally in the mid-30s would be sufficient to survive
Now, this may prove to be a far sterner test than either Southampton or Everton, with Leicester taking more points over the last six games than any of their Premier League peers.
The Foxes have been a runaway train surging up the table; banishing hopes on Wearside, Tyneside and Humberside that a points tally in the mid-30s would be sufficient to survive.
Nigel Pearson’s men will arrive at the Stadium of Light bursting with confidence, desperate to complete what would be a remarkable turnaround and follow Sunderland and West Brom in becoming only the third side in Premier League history to be bottom at Christmas and still beat the drop.
Unlike Southampton and Everton too, there will be an intensity surrounding Leicester.
They will hustle, harry, put a foot in at every opportunity and come out of the blocks like a rocket, with Duracell Bunny striker Jamie Vardy inevitably setting the tone.
Sunderland will have to be mindful of that in the opening 15 minutes, in particular.
Far from being a gimme, tomorrow’s encounter is fraught with danger at sending Sunderland back towards the Championship abyss.
But over the last three games there has been a resilience and far stronger mentality around this Sunderland side.
They have the bit between their teeth and while there were celebrations on the pitch after the final whistle at Goodison Park last weekend, there was nothing over-the-top as the players emerged from the dressing room afterwards.
That focus instilled by Dick Advocaat has continued to burn strong this week.
For all Leicester have confounded the critics, this is an opportunity for Sunderland in front of a crowd which will be close to capacity.
Four of the Foxes’ six wins from the last seven games have come at home, while they still leave gaps at the back, despite the improvement stemming from switching to a 3-5-2 system.
Even in the midst of Newcastle’s shambolic 3-0 defeat at the King Power Stadium earlier this month, the Magpies had chances to peg back the hosts during the opening 45 minutes.
Sunderland must maintain the doggedness from the last three games, but if they can complement that with a splash of quality, opportunities will knock.
Certainly, Sunderland’s players should be more confident in front of goal after netting five times in the last three games, even if fortune has favoured them.
The best run of form all season has arrived at the right time and that will reap rewards in terms of self-belief.
Similarly, at the other end of the field, the clean sheet on Merseyside shouldn’t be overlooked.
Even if John O’Shea was fit enough to feature tomorrow, there would be scant justification in breaking up the partnership of Wes Brown and Sebastian Coates which performed so well at Goodison.
For the first time this season – at the 36th time of asking – Sunderland’s starting XI may finally remain unchanged.
Can they get the job done?
After Sunderland have repeatedly fallen flat on their faces this season against their bottom-six peers, there will be a hefty dose of anxiety in the stands tomorrow.
But these players have been here before, they’ve handled this pressure and they will be chomping at the bit to put another three points on the board, regardless of what Hull do at Spurs.
Sunderland CAN complete yet another Houdini act this weekend.
Verdict: Home win