Sunderland v West Brom: Not a contest to set the pulse racing around the Premier League-crazy football world is it?
It certainly won’t take top billing on Match of the Day tomorrow night, but for those with an SR postcode this match fits in the category marked crucial. But you could say that about them all I guess.
When you talk Tony Pulis, the old cliches come out, resilient, well-drilled etc etc.
Defensive discipline is certainly a trait he is proud of and the stars back it up – since the Welshman took charge at the Hawthorns, only two clubs have taken more clean sheets in the same era than West Brom (23), they are, believe-it-or-not, Arsenal (28) and Man United (25).
But, and there’s always a but around the corner, they are not going to play you off the park – in that same period they have failed to score in 21 Premier League matches, the joint-highest number among the current clubs in the top flight alongside Crystal Palace.
Tomorrow has draw written all over it, but here are three key areas where it may just be won ... or lost, not that a defeat can be contemplated.
Patience is a virtue:
Sunderland and the fans must have this in abundance tomorrow.
Only three teams have conceded fewer goals than West Brom (six) yet only six sides have scored fewer than the Baggies’ seven.
Given four came in one game (a 4-2 win over West Ham), their matches are hardly teaming over with goals or clear-cut chances.
West Brom are happy to concede possession to their opponents – they have been beaten on possession stats in every top-flight game this season.
Sunderland will have a lot of ball tomorrow and it’s vital they keep it well but also they wait for the opening instead of trying to force things against that well-drilled defence!
The fans will be vital in this regard.
You could feel the tension at the Stadium of Light last Saturday and how the supporters keep the faith if this match drags along at 0-0 for the afternoon could prove key.
Be alive defending set-pieces:
After last week’s diabolical piece of ‘defending’ at Crystal Palace’s 94th-minute attacking free-kick, surely this failed footballer should not need to say a word on this particular sore subject? But I will!
Sunderland last Saturday failed to deal with Christian Benteke, not a bad header of the ball.
Here’s another to watch out for, Gareth McAuley. Yes, Gareth McAuley. In the last for seasons, no defender has scored more Premier League headed goals than the 36-year-old Northern Ireland man, who has eight, along with John Terry.
Keep the reins on Salomon Rondon:
If you like to bet on first goal scorer, here is West Brom’s leading candidate, providing McAuley doesn’t get it. Five of the Baggies’ last eight away goals (and they don’t score many as previously mentioned) have been scored by the Venezualan.
But they are not a one-man band by any stretch of the imagination.
Rondon leads the line but there is width in the side, provided by ex-Sunderland winger James McClean and summer signing Matt Phillips.