David Jones: Keep Mahrez quiet and Sunderland can halt Leicester’s Premier title push

Fabio Borini takes on West Brom last weekend and is sure to be a key man against Leicester this coming Sunday
Fabio Borini takes on West Brom last weekend and is sure to be a key man against Leicester this coming Sunday
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Sunderland still have survival in their own hands, but only just.

Failure to win the most straightforward looking game we had left in the run-in has certainly tested, but not yet broken, my belief that we can still escape.

But West Brom were no soft touch and, though they failed to have a single shot on our goal, it says much about the professionalism of our league that a side who, in essence, have nothing to play for were willing to throw their bodies on the line to deny us victory.

It’s fair to say we can expect title-chasing Leicester to give our defence a bit more of a test this weekend.

It’s increasingly looking like a shoot-out between Norwich and Sunderland to stay up unless Newcastle can win at Southampton on Saturday to end a run of eight straight away defeats.

All three relegation rivals have tough games though.

Norwich go to Crystal Palace, who themselves will be viewing that game as a chance to secure their Premier League status for another season. Palace may not have won for 14 games, but they pushed West Ham all the the way last Saturday.

And we all know how tough our game, live on Sky Sports (1.30pm kick-off on Sunday), is going to be, though Sam Allardyce is right to say we can win it.

While I expect Leicester to on and win the league, there is no way they are going to win all their remaining games.

Our team has enough ability to test Leicester: the back four has pace to cope with the lung-bursting runs of Jamie Vardy, the midfield must compete head on with Kante and Drinkwater and our forwards can pose them a different type of problem.

The advantage of having Jermain Defoe and Fabio Borini in the forward positions is that it’s pointless punting high balls into the box, the sort of delivery which is meat and drink to Leicester’s central defenders Robert Huth and Wes Morgan, so Sunderland have got to box clever.

Huth, in particular, is uncomfortable against smaller frontmen and you can unsettle him by getting him turned and running back towards his own goal with balls through the channels.

It’s the sort of duel Borini should relish if he’s prepared to take a few bruises along the way.

You can get behind their full-backs too. They are solid but unspectacular performers and Sunderland’s midfielders could get joy in shooting positions in and around the edge of the box.

The one to watch is, of course, Riyad Mahrez, who has got the ability to trouble teams much better than ours.

Patrick van Aanholt will have to be so focused on his defensive work, but Mahrez will look to drift into areas of the pitch occupied by Jan Kirchhoff, who could be our key performer again.

This is the most consistent team we’ve seen for years in red and white shirts and the longer they play together the better they will become.

Goals haven’t been much of a problem under Allardyce, but we’re certainly due a few more at the Stadium of Light before the season is out.

Our relegation rivals, Norwich and Newcastle, have both scored 22 at home compared to our 17, which is fewer even than West Brom.

But, along with Everton, we are the only other team in the bottom half with a positive goal difference at home, something which has helped to cancel out the fact we have the worst defensive record away from home in the league.

I’m confident that our goal difference will be worth an extra point in the final reckoning, particularly if we manage to win at Carrow Road in 11 days.

In the meantime, let’s fill the Stadium of Light on Sunday, remind the rest of the country what passionate support we have and hope that we can put the brakes on Leicester’s title procession.