Darren Holloway knows Sunderland face an uphill task against Manchester City – but he believes the lack of expectation can work in their favour.
Pep Guardiola’s City are 11 points adrift of leaders Chelsea in third but the Spaniard is aiming to keep the pressure on when they head to Wearside for the Super Sunday showdown.
The pressure will be on City, something which Holloway believes will work in the favour of David Moyes’ Sunderland side as they head into the final 12 games.
Ex-Sunderland defender Holloway played more than 50 games in the late 1990s during one of the club’s more successful eras.
It is a far cry from Sunderland’s current situation, the Black Cats rooted to the foot of the Premier League, three points from safety after the 2-0 defeat to Everton.
Moyes believes five wins from their final dozen games will keep Sunderland up but they need to start stringing together results soon – and Holloway believes the lack of pressure could help spring a surprise result.
Anything can happen in the Premier League, teams at the bottom do beat the top teams.
“There is no great emphasis on Sunderland getting anything against Manchester City, that can help because it takes a bit of pressure off,” said Holloway, who now coaches at Blyth Spartans.
“But on the other hand, they don’t want to get beat four or five nil as that can dent the confidence.
“It is one of those games were they have to have a go, we need the points and whatever we can get from it points-wise would be great.”
Sunderland were beaten 2-1 in the reverse fixture on the opening day of the season, a late Paddy McNair own goal sealing three points for the hosts.
Sunderland, though, enjoyed an excellent run of wins over City at the Stadium of Light in the not-too-distant past – beating them 1-0 over four consecutive seasons between 2010-11 and 2013-14.
Given their current standings, Sunderland certainly wouldn’t have hand-picked City as their opponents this weekend but Holloway insists they always have a chance with 14-goal top scorer Jermain Defoe in the side.
Holloway, 39, said: “Probably not, but Sunderland have got a result against them in the past, especially when they have been flying high.
“Anything can happen in the Premier League, teams at the bottom do beat the top teams but it is a big ask, probably too much of an ask if I’m honest.
“If we get anything from the game I would be quite happy.
“Defensively City have shown their frailties, that is clear for everyone to see but you have to have the ball to be able to have a go at those frailties.
“If Sunderland get a chance then Jermain Defoe is in great goalscoring form and can punish any team.
“With a bit of luck they get one or two chances that fall to him and he can put them away.
“Realistically, it is a massive ask for us to get anything out of the game.”
Holloway played for Sunderland during their best ever Premier League spell, the Black Cats twice finishing seventh.
And he knows from first hand experience just how intimidating the Stadium of Light can be, with another 40,000 plus crowd expected for Sunday’s 4pm kick-off.
“The support was huge when I played, the atmosphere was incredible at the Stadium of Light,” added Crook-born Holloway, who also played for Wimbledon, Bradford City, Darlington and Gateshead before retiring early due to knee problems.
“If you get beat week-in, week-out it can put a dampner on your day and the atmosphere but if they can get behind the lads it will spur one or two on, if not all of them.”
Holloway was speaking to Made in Tyne and Wear’s Football Matters show, which is on every Wednesday at 9.30pm on Sky channel 117 or Freeview channel 7 and Virgin Media channel 159.
The show, which also features our very own Head of Sport Ross Gregory, is repeated on Friday at 10pm and Saturday at 10am.
For those living outside the region the show is also available online at madeintyneandwear.tv