Chris Young’s big-match verdict: Sunderland must give it what four!

Sunderland's Sebastian Larsson celebrates scoring his sides first goal.
Sunderland's Sebastian Larsson celebrates scoring his sides first goal.
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APPROPRIATELY in a week when Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips were reunited in Sunderland’s attack, the Black Cats will tonight attempt to achieve a feat they haven’t managed since the Peter Reid era.

Monday’s testimonial for former Sunderland defender Jody Craddock prompted a cozy meander down Memory Lane, where there was an inevitable reminder of just how good that Reid side actually was.

It’s telling that in the 13 seasons since the 2000-01 campaign - the second of the successive years when Sunderland finished seventh - the Wearsiders have been unable to register four Premier League wins on the spin.

That could all change tonight.

It’s yet another marker of how stunning this turnaround in Sunderland’s fortunes has been.

Of course, Gus Poyet’s side don’t need four wins on the trot to secure their Premier League status. A solitary point will suffice to edge Sunderland over the line.

But there is little merit in targeting a draw tonight. Sunderland need to go all guns blazing for the victory which would mathematically confirm their survival, rather than relying on goal difference to propel Norwich City into the Championship.

In facing already-safe West Brom, there is a clear avenue of opportunity for Sunderland.

When this game was rescheduled a couple of months ago, it held the potential to be a “winner takes it all” encounter, with all of those Premier League riches on the line.

But while Sunderland have left it late to move to the verge of safety, West Brom stumbled over the line after Norwich’s failure to beat Chelsea on Sunday.

Perhaps there is a danger that now the Baggies are safe, they can relax and enjoy themselves in front of another bumper Stadium of Light crowd tonight.

If Pepe Mel’s side had been safe several weeks ago, that might have been the case.

Yet after just ensuring their top flight status following such a huge effort, the adrenaline will have suddenly plummeted for West Brom and it will be difficult to get that going again for their final two games.

Nevertheless, there will be a nervousness on the terraces that Sunderland will somehow manage to undo all of their good work at the 11th hour, particularly as the Baggies can boast the enigmatic Stephane Sessegnon in their ranks.

As Quinn said this week: “This is Sunderland remember, so we won’t take anything for granted!”

Such anxiety is understandable, particularly after this most breathless of rollercoaster seasons. No-one will really celebrate until Norwich are contemplating life in the second tier.

But, crucially, Sunderland banished their Stadium of Light no-shows with victory against Cardiff in their last home outing, while there is clearly a confidence and determination surrounding the side after three wins on the spin.

Keeping a settled team has been one of the key factors behind that improvement and Poyet will again look to maintain the status quo tonight, barring injury.

Emanuele Giaccherini will be on stand-by to replace Manchester United hero Seb Larsson after the Swede was forced off at Old Trafford.

Given the manner in which Larsson has worked so well in harmony with Jack Colback and Lee Cattermole in central midfield over the last few weeks, Poyet will be keen to have the former Birmingham City man available.

Larsson, like Colback, Fabio Borini, Marcos Alonso and Santiago Vergini, deserves to play his part tonight after setting aside the question marks over his future to contribute significantly to Sunderland’s remarkable recovery.

Now Sunderland need a happy ending to that surge off the basement.

September’s defeat at West Brom proved to be the final straw for Paolo Di Canio after a fiery dressing room exchange at the Hawthorns prompted a player rebellion.

At that stage, the club were in a dark place; descending head-first towards the Championship.

But a point or three in the reverse fixture against the Baggies will make standing up to Di Canio, dismissing the Italian and choosing Poyet as the man to keep Sunderland in the Premier League all worthwhile.

It would cap the most remarkable of seasons.

Verdict: Home win