Chris Young’s big-match analysis: Sunderland will hope their rivals have an off day

Sunderland's Craig Gardner controls the ball ahead of Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Sunderland's Craig Gardner controls the ball ahead of Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
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SUNDERLAND would snatch the frustration of inconsistency if it equalled Aston Villa’s league position.

After Monday night’s fightback at local rivals West Brom, Villa took their tally to a respectable 15 points from 12 games. Far from the relegation frights of last season, Paul Lambert is progressing the club towards the comfort and mundanity of mid-table.

Yet there has been a chalk and cheese element to Villa this season.

Will travel sick Sunderland face the side who have beaten Chelsea and Manchester City and boast the potentially rampant front line of Christian Benteke, Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann?

Or will it be the one who have managed just six goals and two Premier League wins on their own turf - the same tally as the top flight’s bottom club?

Sunderland at least won’t be under any illusions over Villa’s modest home record.

More than anyone, the Black Cats are fully aware of the dangers of catching Lambert’s side on a good day after April’s 6-1 rout in the West Midlands.

That was one of the first signs that Paolo Di Canio didn’t have all the answers underneath his bravado, as Villa repeatedly scythed through the woeful Sunderland defence.

But as bad as Di Canio’s side were, Villa were equally impressive. The pace, power and intensity was just too much for Sunderland to handle.

That made the FA’s decision to overturn Wes Brown’s ludicrous red card all the more crucial. Sunderland will need the former England defender in his most imperious form to combat Villa’s front three, even if injury has subdued Benteke over recent weeks.

But the combination of Brown’s return and Gus Poyet’s work on team shape have generally strengthened Sunderland’s defensive resolve anyway.

Poyet has been far more consumed with his side’s attacking deficiencies on the training ground this week.

Sunderland’s goal tally on the road is pitiful - just two all season, with the last one coming in August’s defeat at Crystal Palace.

That is a problem which obviously requires urgent attention if Sunderland are to remain in contention with those above them when they enter the season’s home straight.

Given Poyet was forced to sacrifice Emanuele Giaccherini so early at Stoke last weekend though, it provides a foggy vision of whether a change of personnel in the forward positions is necessary.

The big selection headache for Poyet tomorrow is whether Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena go straight back into the starting XI after serving their three-game bans.

Dossena has been struggling with a tight calf and even though he is the only natural left-back in Sunderland’s squad, Phil Bardsley and Ondrej Celustka may continue in the full-back roles.

But Cattermole, who topped up his fitness with 90 minutes for the Under-21s in midweek, is the intriguing decision.

Ki Sung-Yeung has to be in the side after impressing during Cattermole’s absence, yet is there room for both in the starting XI?

Either Cattermole would have to occupy a more advanced position in place of Seb Larsson or Jack Colback, or he would return to the holding role with Ki pushing forward.

The latter option looks unlikely, given Ki has emerged as the midfielder who makes Sunderland tick and sets the tempo.

And with both Colback and Larsson perhaps better bets to help with Sunderland’s away drought, Cattermole may well have to be content with a place on the bench.

Key Villa trio Agbonlahor, Weimann and Fabian Delph are all expected to start after being limited to substitute roles at West Brom following injury.

That game provided some drama in a season for Villa which has been far more middle of the road than the dramatic high’s and low’s of last time around.

After three freakish away games at the helm, a humdrum, mundane positive result tomorrow would be welcomed with open arms by Poyet.

Verdict: Draw