Can Sunderland take advantage of Newcastle’s defensive headache?
CONNOR Wickham, Steven Fletcher and Jermain Defoe have managed just three goals between them during 2015.
When looking for reasons behind Sunderland’s plight in the relegation dogfight, it doesn’t take a super-sleuth to investigate beyond a paltry recent tally of one goal in six Premier League outings.
But Sunderland’s main three strikers - thrust together in the starting XI for Dick Advocaat’s opening game in charge at West Ham – face a defensive unit on Sunday who are well beyond the bare bones.
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Davide Santon sold. Paul Dummett, Steven Taylor and Massadio Haidara injured. And then to cap it off, captain Fabricio Coloccini gets himself a three-match ban.
Sunderland will come up against a right-back at centre-half and utility men in both full-back positions – including Jack Colback in the left-back role.
If (and it’s a big ‘if’ on the back of recent Stadium of Light performances) Sunderland can get the ball into the final third, there should be gaps to exploit. Whether the attackers can make the most of those opportunities is another question altogether.
Lee Cattermole v Moussa Sissoko
WHEN Newcastle enjoyed their best spell of the game during December’s meeting at St James’s, it was sparked by Sissoko.
The French international’s driving runs put Sunderland on the back foot midway through the second half, with Gus Poyet forced to bring on Liam Bridcutt for some fresh legs to combat the Newcastle man after Lee Cattermole had earlier picked up a knock.
While Papiss Cisse has netted crucial goals for Newcastle this season and Ayoze Perez has proved a surprise package, Sissoko has been the most consistent performer for the Magpies.
Dick Advocaat has a decision to make over whether to bring Cattermole back into the side after Jordi Gomez did well alongside Seb Larsson and Jack Rodwell in central midfield at West Ham a fortnight ago.
But Cattermole’s combative qualities and experience of this fixture are invaluable qualities that Advocaat surely won’t overlook.
Presuming he does get the nod though, Cattermole has one of those pivotal individual tussles which he has to win.
Battle of the Jacks
A TORRENT of hostility will inevitably descend on Jack Colback on his return to the Stadium of Light.
It won’t surprise him, nor particularly phase him, even if he also has to deal with the distraction of a positional change to left-back.
But the Jack who expensively replaced Colback in Sunderland’s midfield, Jack Rodwell, needs to come to the party in playing a key role both on Sunday and in the Black Cats’ survival campaign in general.
For so much of this season, Sunderland have struggled to have players bridging the gap from midfield and making runs beyond the frontmen – bus-sized chasms regularly appearing between the red and white shirts during the final days of Gus Poyet’s reign.
Dick Advocaat immediately set Sunderland up as a more compact unit in his opening game in charge and that will surely continue this weekend.
But they need one of the three midfielders to get in and around the frontmen.
Rodwell has that responsibility.