Sunderland and Aston Villa will both be determined to edge themselves further clear of the bottom three when they meet on Wearside on Saturday.
This is a vitally important game for the Black Cats, whose position looks fragile with only four points separating them from danger, but they will have come away the happier from the 1-1 draw at Hull City last time out, a game remembered for a fracas between the two managers rather than the football.
With Lee Cattermole suspended, Gustavo Poyet will have to find a different way to combat Villa’s three-man midfield setup and prevent Fabian Delph from winning the physical battle. Meanwhile, the Uruguayan will be hoping for his side to show more creativity to unlock a Villa defence that appears to lack confidence.
That is despite the boost of two victories over rivals West Bromwich Albion. The first saw Christian Benteke convert a last-gasp penalty to see the club out of the bottom three, while the second came as a result of a much-improved second half showing, although they rode their luck on both occasions.
New boss Tim Sherwood seems to have galvanised players and supporters alike, and will be confident of extending Villa’s fine recent record at the Stadium of Light. They certainly look to have more attacking impetus, with Gabriel Agbonlahor and Scott Sinclair providing the pace that Sunderland lack in defence.
Aside from Cattermole, Sunderland are still without Adam Johnson, who has been suspended by the club following his arrest. Will Buckley is a major doubt.
Alan Hutton and Jack Grealish both serve bans for Aston Villa, who are unable to call upon Nathan Baker and Aly Cissokho. However, Benteke should be back.
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