Sunderland will hope a fortnight on the training field pays off when they go to Stoke City looking to improve their precarious position in the Premier League table.
As ever, it will be a tough ask to win at Stoke, who have the incentive of moving to within just a point of their highest ever top-flight points tally. They also come into it on the back of an impressive victory over Europe hopefuls Southampton, with Charlie Adam producing a fine piece of skill to fire home the winner.
He alone arguably has more creative ability than the whole Sunderland midfield put together, a grim assumption that goes a long way to explaining the visitors’ struggles in front of goal this season. A lack of pace at the back may also be seized upon by Mame Biram Diouf, who will be keen to make it 10 goals in the league for him.
After the euphoria of a fifth successive Tyne-Wear derby triumph over arch rivals Newcastle United, Dick Advocaat saw his side collapse again on their own turf, with Crystal Palace running riot in a second half blitz that was characterised by kamikaze defending and an obvious lack of quality from the Black Cats.
With trips to leading duo Arsenal and Chelsea ahead in their final two fixtures, it looks as if these next few weeks could define whether they manage to retain Premier League status, and with just one point separating them from the bottom three, the need for points could not be much greater.
Stoke remain without forwards Victor Moses, Bojan Krkic and Peter Odemwingie, and this game is likely to come too soon for defender Marc Muniesa.
Ricky Alvarez misses out for Sunderland, whose injury list also comprises Wes Brown and Emanuele Giaccherini. Midfielder Sebastian Larsson is suspended.
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