Anything less than a win would be a major disappointment for both Sunderland and Aston Villa as the Premier League’s bottom two meet in a vital encounter in the battle for survival.
Five straight defeats have extinguished Sam Allardyce’s good start as Sunderland boss, and have seen them lose serious ground on those above them. The gap to safety now stands at some seven points, so they simply must put a run of results together quickly if they wish to avoid being cut adrift like their opponents. A lot will also depend on the business that Allardyce carries out in the transfer market, which incidently has already begun with the imminent signing of defender Lamine Kone.
This game could come down to some very fine margins, and in terms of attacking options the Black Cats do seem to have the upper hand, with Jermain Defoe looking to seize upon any slack marking from the visitors and youngster Duncan Watmore unlikely to give Villa a moment of piece due to the relentless energy which has seen him quickly become a favourite among supporters on Wearside, who will hope to have more to shout about than they did against Liverpool on Wednesday.
Although the position of Sunderland looks considerably precarious, Villa will need the miracle of all miracles if they are to stay up, and their performance away to Norwich City on Monday gave no indication that such a turnaround would take place any time soon. Once again they were sloppy at the back and gave the ball away cheaply, while their threat going forward was almost nonexistant with the exception of a couple of efforts from set-pieces.
The club is hoping to convince Chelsea striker Loic Remy to come in and help them make an unlikely bid for safety. That would be something of a coup, but they need results sooner rather than later and are likely to have to win as many as half of their remaining fixtures to stand a chance of staying up. Lose this one and they will be seven points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League, but their record in previous visits to the Stadium of Light does at least suggest they could be in with a chance.
Sebastian Coates and Jack Rodwell will both hope to play a part for Sunderland despite being forced off against Liverpool, but Younes Kaboul and Sebastian Larsson remain out.
Aston Villa are hit by one-match bans for Jordan Ayew and Ashley Westwood, both of whom picked up their fifth booking of the season at Norwich. Gabriel Agbonlahor and Carlos Sanchez are major doubts.