Wise Men Say: Sunderland’s midfield is key to nullifying Ighalo and Deeney of service

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If you had told me at the start of the season that our home game against Watford could potentially put us level on points with the champions, you’d presume that we’d be going into the match relaxed and free of nerves.

But after wins for Newcastle and Bournemouth, we now find ourselves back in the bottom three and with the prospect of an exciting Watford side coming to the Stadium of Light, I feel anything but relaxed.

After the win against Stoke, everything looked rosy, but now the pressure is firmly back on us.

This emphasises how important that win, and the one against Crystal Palace was.

If we’d have even taken only four points from those two games, a win tomorrow would only see us, at best, draw level on points with Newcastle, Bournemouth and Norwich.

Those three relegation rivals will of course be feeling the pressure themselves going into their respective games.

Bournemouth host Manchester United at the Vitality Stadium in a game which has 0-0 written all over it, a further ode to the bizarre nature of this season.

The early kick off sees Everton travel to Norwich where they’ll decide if they want perform like a side capable of scoring six against Sunderland, or a one that concedes three against Bournemouth.

Then on Sunday, Newcastle are on TV against Spurs.

We can watch those results come in with hope rather than fear, should we play as well against Watford as we have been recently.

Sam Allardyce hailed the display against Arsenal as the best of his tenure. We were solid defensively and looked threatening going forward.

Watford, like many newly promoted sides before them, have benefited from the element of surprise. Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney have been instrumental.

I feel confident that Allardyce will have us prepared for Watford’s dangerous duo.

Look at how well Xherdan Shaqiri was nullified by Sunderland before going on to tear Manchester City apart.

The main issue for Sunderland though could be absence of Lee Cattermole and Sebastian Larsson.

With Larsson looking unlikely to play again until the New Year and Cattermole struggling for fitness, cutting off the supply to Ighalo and Deeney does sound that bit more difficult.

Of course, Yann M’Vila will remain in the middle, but which two players go alongside him?

Ola Toivonen played well against Arsenal and it would be hard to begrudge him another start.

If Jermain Defoe is fully fit then you have to think that Sam will put him back in up front with Stephen Fletcher and revert us back to a 3-5-2 formation, rather than the 5-4-1 we saw at Arsenal.

In this instance though, I can’t see Allardyce going with both Toivonen and Watmore as part of a central three.

Jack Rodwell gave a decent account of himself when coming on against the Gunners and played an exquisite through ball that Patrick van Aanholt should have scored from.

The fact that Rodwell also had a pass completion rate of 100% won’t have gone unnoticed by the manager and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him handed his chance.

Christmas is always the time when relegation battles hot up and the table starts to take shape, let’s just hope we can make next week’s visit to Stamford Bridge is a relegation six-pointer.