Sunderland will be hoping to close the gap between themselves and the safety line when they make the tricky trip to South London on Monday evening to take on Crystal Palace.
The home side ended a mini dip in form last time out by becoming the first team to condemn new Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp to defeat, thanks to the constant aerial threat that central defender Scott Dann poses from set-pieces. The 28-year-old also had to defend astutely at the other end of the field, as he helped notch his side’s third consecutive win over the Anfield club, who put them under significant second half pressure and created several good chances.
It was also a relief for manager Alan Pardew to see his team score from open play after a lean few weeks in front of goal, but it was only a matter of time before they would fire again as their squad is full of attacking talent. Given the way Yannick Bolasie took their opponents apart on Wearside in March, and how Sunderland have defended at times this season, particularly away from home, the Eagles ought to fancy their chances here, but must be wary of the counter-attack.
There was evidently a sizeable gulf between Sunderland and Southampton when they met before the international break, with the only surprise being that the match was decided by just the odd goal, and a penalty at that. Because of their obvious limitations, the Black Cats must prove similarly difficult to break down if they are to have any chance of avoiding dropping into the Championship. And in Sam Allardyce, they have the ideal manager to do just that.
However, the early signs are that this challenge may just be beyond him. The team has shown on occasion that they can put chances away when they fall, but too often they find themselves outplayed and on the defensive, and if they find Palace firing on all cylinders here another embarrassing scoreline may result. Meanwhile, in amongst all the turmoil is young forward Duncan Watmore, who has performed admirably in his first year as a Premier League first-teamer.
Striker Dwight Gayle will miss out for Crystal Palace because of a hamstring injury, and there are slight doubts over the fitness of winger Bakary Sako.
The visitors may have Adam Matthews in their match squad for the first time since August, while Fabio Borini and Yann M’Vila have recovered from minor knocks in time to play.