Sunderland will be determined to hit back from their hefty defeat at Everton last time out, but face another tough test as they come up against an upwardly mobile Southampton side.
To their credit, the Black Cats always looked a threat going forward at Goodison Park, hitting the frame of the goal twice early on and then retrieving a two-goal deficit, but despite fielding three centre-backs and holding midfielders they were much too open at the back and were eventually punished ruthlessly. Once they fell behind again at 3-2 they folded in an all-too-familiar manner, leaving new manager Sam Allardyce with plenty to think about coming into this one.
Here he faces the challenge of keeping Southampton’s in-form front three quiet, which is a particularly considerable one as his defence look vulnerable every time an opposition team builds an attack. Before they can even think about launching a bid to stay in the Premier League, but must tighten up and close the huge gaps that been exploited all season, while the way they played after drawing level on Merseyside suggests game management is also something that needs working on.
Up to seventh place and in the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup, Southampton have certainly hit their stride over the past month or two, and it is the attacking quartet of Steven Davis, Sadio Mane, Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic who have shone the most during this good run. Tadic provided the perfect cross for Pelle to head in the game clinching second goal at home to Bournemouth on Sunday after Davis had opened the scoring with an effort which epitomised his current level of confidence.
That local derby was an unusual encounter, as for all of their emphatic dominance in the first half, the Saints played well within themselves in the second and barely showed any intent to extend their lead. But they still played some excellent football, and here if they can isolate Mane or Tadic against the Sunderland defence, they are likely to do some damage. It promises to be a combative midfield battle too, with Yann M’Vila set to battle against Jordy Clasie and Oriol Romeu.
The hosts are without Lee Cattermole, but do welcome back a quartet of key players. John O’Shea, Fabio Borini, Ola Toivonen and Younes Kaboul are all available again.
Victor Wanyama is out for Southampton after he was sent off late on against Bournemouth, while strikers Shane Long and Jay Rodriguez are sidelined bu injury.
Played for both – Kevin Phillips: A natural goalscorer, Phillips announced himself to the Premier League in stunning fashion by winning the Golden Boot award in the 1999-00 season after helping Sunderland to promotion a year earlier. He continued to find the net until leaving the club in 2003 for Southampton, with whom he stayed until their relegation in 2005, scoring 22 goals in 64 league matches.