As the number of games left in a season begins to reach single digits the anxiety levels in clubs in the lower reaches of the Premier League heightens considerably. You can never count your chickens too early. That will undoubtedly be the line of thinking for Sunderland and Norwich; two clubs in apparent freefall. While their top-flight status isn’t really under threat the thought of being sucked towards the bottom three is enough to concern Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill. The manner in which they surrendered their lead and game against QPR last week will undoubtedly have set the alarm bells ringing at the Stadium of Light. A summer overhaul looks to be on the cards with O’Neill hinting that he needs to freshen the playing squad. The one currently at his disposal need to improve on a record that has seen them take one point from a possible 18.
Similarly, Norwich are also looking over their shoulder after managing to accumulate eight points in 12 games since December. The Canaries have struggled since the turn of the year and have dropped from seventh down to 14th in the space of three months. Scoring goals is the issue Chris Hughton is struggling to solve having seen his side find the net just twice in their last five league matches despite the addition of strikers Luciano Becchio and Kei Kamara in January. Hughton needs to get his side firing once again and the visit to Wearside might just be the perfect setting for his strikeforce to start hitting form again.
Danny Rose is expected to return for Sunderland but James McClean is a major doubt with illness.
Southampton will be without Anthony Pilkington (hamstring) and will join Andrew Surman, Alexander Tettey and John Ruddy on the sidelines.
What the managers said…
“He hasn’t played that much but I am sure he would love to have come in and score goals immediately and win the fans over and play very well. At the moment both he and the side are coming to terms with the change of pattern of play and I have always said he will take time to settle. But I have no problems that he will get goals for us. Obviously he would like them as soon as possible but sometimes it happens. Steven Fletcher got off to a flyer and kept it going but Danny has not been that lucky, but there is time. I don’t know him that well but I think he is one of those who cares about his performances by his participation in the team.” Martin O’Neill has backed Danny Graham to start hitting the Sunderland goal trail sooner rather than later (Daily Mail)
“For as much as you’re looking at other results, and obviously when your game finishes that’s the first thing you look at, what hits home more than anything is that you have to look after your own results. If they are good enough over a period of time, and of course for us that’s over the next nine games, then you don’t have to worry too much about the other teams around you. I think you do have to look at it that way because there are so many results that can go against you. It’s going to be a tough fight because it’s a tough place to go. Irrespective of form, they are a very good side. They’re playing at home so they’ll have a passionate crowd behind them, so any team that goes to the Stadium of Light knows that they’re in for a tough game.” Chris Hughton has called on Norwich to take control of their own destiny (Canaries.co.uk)
Pre-Match Statistic: Sunderland have achieved victory in each of their last eight home league games against Norwich. Their last win was in an August 1997 Division One encounter.
Prediction: Sunderland 2-2 Norwich City
Watch the LIVE blog below