SHOCK, horror, Sunderland’s work on the training ground this week has centred on improving their goal threat.
Yep, that was a difficult one to predict, wasn’t it?
Until any fresh attacking recruits land next month, Gus Poyet has to unearth some goals from somewhere for four defining games before the turn of the year.
The return of Ricky Alvarez helps with that little bit of something different, even if it’s only from the bench, and the same will apply to Emanuele Giaccherini.
But Poyet hasn’t been looking to adopt a radical new system or gung-ho approach in training.
Sunderland’s coaching staff have been concentrating on getting more from the central member of the front three; trying to make the striker more flexible and take the predictability out of Sunderland’s approach play.
For all that attacking trio have looked more cohesive over recent games, with Connor Wickham, in particular, beginning to embrace the left-sided role, the Black Cats have netted just one in four.
Steven Fletcher will almost certainly be tasked with the central spot tomorrow after recovering from the blow to the back which confined him to an unused substitute’s role at Liverpool.
Jozy Altidore did okay on his first league start of the campaign at Anfield, but the American continues to be let down by his hold-up play.
Fletcher is Poyet’s first-choice frontman and the more likely match-winner.
If the Scot can prove to be both the scorer and creator, as he was in October’s win over Stoke, and give Sunderland that hitherto absent knack of nicking games, it will utterly transform the prospects of Poyet’s side.
But they will need to be good – very good – in a deceptively difficult game against West Ham tomorrow.
The Hammers have demonstrated the rewards stemming from adding a touch of potency to defensive resiliency. It’s a balance Sunderland haven’t quite struck so far this season.
Now that Sam Allardyce’s side have got to the lofty heights of fourth, their sky-high confidence has obliterated any worries over relegation and they are dangerous opponents for the Black Cats.
Allardyce has options too, even without injured talisman Mark Noble.
He can go for the familiar route one policy of Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan, or he can look for Stewart Downing to make the most of the attacking pace of Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho.
After Carroll’s brace last weekend – and his impressive display at the Stadium of Light last March – Allardyce will surely go for the direct approach.
Even if John O’Shea can contain Carroll’s aerial threat (and he couldn’t in the Spring) Sunderland have to be mindful of picking up the second balls from the ex-Newcastle man’s knock-downs.
Despite Liam Bridcutt’s impressive display at Liverpool, Lee Cattermole is likely to be handed that task, while keeping tabs on his ex-Middlesbrough team-mate Downing.
That’s harsh on Bridcutt, but Cattermole was only taken out of the starting XI because he was shattered, not through any deterioration in his performances.
It might not be the only change in the middle of the park.
Jack Rodwell is yet to his stride in a Sunderland shirt, but his height and physique will be needed in combating West Ham’s burly midfield pair of Alex Song and Cheikhou Kouyate.
For that reason, even if Giaccherini and Billy Jones had been ready to return this weekend, this would not necessarily be the game for the duo.
Instead, Poyet plans to give them an extra week of training before they come back into the fold for the Tyne-Wear derby. If Sunderland can get a win under their belts before they head to St James’s Park, it will be a major boost.
Verdict: Home win
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