After last weekend’s hiding at Everton, Sunderland have one final chance to improve their precarious position prior to the two-week international break.
But they face a tall order to secure a second successive home victory against a Southampton side, unbeaten in their last five Premier League outings.
Here’s three key areas which will determine the outcome of tomorrow’s encounter.
1. Can Sunderland learn to defend?
Sam Allardyce immediately put an emphasis on tightening up at the back when he was appointed as Sunderland boss and there were signs of clear progress in his opening two games at the helm.
But that improvement was obliterated in harrowing circumstances at Goodison Park, as a gung-ho Black Cats side “lost the plot” in Allardyce’s words after clawing back a two-goal deficit.
The absence of injured pair Younes Kaboul and John O’Shea undoubtedly contributed towards Sunderland’s implosion and Allardyce will hope at least one of the centre-halves is available again.
Sunderland need to show more responsibility as a team though, the central defenders cannot be left as exposed as they were against the Toffees.
2. Will Allardyce persist with 3-5-2?
Sunderland’s attacking threat was the overwhelming positive stemming from Allardyce’s curve ball selection at Goodison Park after the Black Cats mustered 17 efforts on goal.
This week has provided an opportunity to fine-tune that system, if Allardyce decides to persist with it.
That’s a big ‘if’. The lack of centre-halves available to the Sunderland boss forced him to use full-back Billy Jones in the heart of the defence, and he struggled to the same extent as Wes Brown and Sebastian Coates.
Even if Allardyce has Kaboul back from injury tomorrow, do Sunderland have three capable centre-halves available, at least until the January transfer window?
3. Does Allardyce HAVE to keep Jermain Defoe and Steven Fletcher together?
Few Premier League sides dare to play with an orthodox strike partnership, with the three-man attack favoured by Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat very much the in-vogue formation.
Allardyce absolved Defoe and Fletcher for blame last weekend after they were both on the scoresheet, and had admitted beforehand that they are his first-choice strike pair.
Whatever changes Allardyce makes tomorrow regarding systems or personnel, surely Sunderland’s set-up has to revolve around the best way to keep two players up front?
If the rest of the of the side can provide some protection for Costel Pantilimon’s goal, then Allardyce has two match-winners up front, who are both enjoying the first shoots of form.