AFTER a period of time when cup football has dominated Sunderland’s focus and attention, we return to the Premier League on Saturday when Crystal Palace come to the Stadium of Light.
What a huge game this is going to be.
It’s almost a cup final in itself.
And it’s a match which can have a massive bearing on the outcome at the bottom of the table.
Both Sunderland and Palace have been written off at various stages of this season, but both clubs have rallied and given themselves more than a fighting chance of survival.
When it comes to their Premier League seasons, both Sunderland and Palace have steered a similar course with both making bad starts to the campaign and forcing the owners to make changes at the top.
The change in management has brought an improvement for both clubs and at this point in the season they will feel the drastic decisions were necessary and have been vindicated.
Since Tony Pulis took over at Palace, they have looked far more organised and it is clear his tactics have been to make his team difficult to beat and difficult to play against.
He’s also got more out of his attacking players, in particular Marouane Chamakh who so often since he arrived in English football has flattered to deceive.
He has looked a different player under Tony Pulis.
And if he is fit, he could be the Palace dangerman on Saturday.
Tony Pulis has never been relegated in his managerial career and he has his work cut out to maintain that record.
But if he does keep Palace up, it will be a great achievement considering the club’s position when he took over.
Saturday’s game is one where anything less than a win will be viewed as a bad result for Sunderland and a case of points dropped.
Sunderland’s cup commitments have left them playing catch-up and it’s important they get maximum points from the teams around them.
Palace beat us in the fixture at Selhurst Park very early in the season in a game where Sunderland contributed to their own downfall – and that proved to be the pattern of so many of our league games in the opening months of the campaign.
Gus Poyet has tried to eradicate those self-inflicted defeats that have plagued Sunderland and he will be demanding nothing less than three points on Saturday.