Sunderland will be looking to achieve back to back wins for the first time this season, but face a tough test as they take on a Stoke City team that has not conceded a goal on the road since September 12.
After being ruthlessly exposed in numerous outings this season, the Black Cats delivered a terrific defensive display on Monday to help them earn three massively valuable points away to Crystal Palace. They had to soak up a lot of pressure over the piece, but the back three were always up to the task as Sebastian Coates, Billy Jones and Younes Kaboul proved inpenetrable, clearly the result of hard work on the training ground from manager Sam Allardyce.
At the other end it was Jermain Defoe’s eye for a chance which reaped maximum rewards, taking full advantage of a total state of confusion in the Palace defence and move his side closer to the safety line. More determined performances like that and there is no reason why they cannot maintain their Premier League status for another season, but as they are at home here they will be expected to take the game to the opposition, which on recent evidence could prove problematic.
Throughout their time in the Premier League since being promoted in 2008, Stoke have never been renowned as a side that travels well, but that impression has slowly been dispelled by Mark Hughes and the team is now aiming for a fifth consecutive away success in all competitions. The last of them was certainly their most impressive, as they cancelled out a dangerous Southampton team which had entered the game in very strong form.
And it was not as if they were playing solely on the break an making rare forays forward. The nicely worked winning goal from Bojan Krkic should have been followed by more in the second half had Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic not passed up presentable chances, but the result was enough to lift the West Midlands club to within a point of the top half. After a slow start to the campaign, things really are beginning to come together.
Billy Jones misses out for Sunderland as he serves a one-match ban, but they should have Fabio Borini back from an ankle injury. Jermain Defoe will be assessed after he was stretchered off late on at Crystal Palace.
The visitors may be forced into a change in defence as Philipp Wollscheid has a problem with his pelvis. Xherdan Shaqiri has shaken off a hamstring strain in time to play.
Played for both – Danny Collins: The Welsh international defender joined Sunderland in the summer of 2004 and helped to promotion in his first season, only to go straight back down. They returned to the Premier League in 2007 and he helped establish them until he moved on to Stoke in August 2009. He stayed at the Britannia Stadium for three seasons, failing to score in his 50 league appearances.