A massive game in the context of the battle to avoid relegation to the Championship sees Norwich City look to extend their cushion over the bottom three against a Sunderland side that badly needs a win to stay in touch with the hosts.
Four points currently separate the two sides, although Norwich have played a game more. Even allowing for that, victory here should be the crucial step that will lead them to eventual safety and see their young manager Alex Neil through what has at times been a gruelling season. They will be confident after seeing off Newcastle United in a similarly intense six-pointer in their previous home match, but will on the other hand be needing to bounce back from the setback of losing at Crystal Palace last weekend.
There was not a great deal in the game in terms of clear-cut chances, but one moment of quality proved to be the Canaries’ downfall and they lacked the guile at the other end to fashion a response. In theory, the key to victory lies in midfield as the reliable Jonathan Howson sits alongside Gary O’Neil, who is surely not set to hold back in his battle with the equally combative Lee Cattermole. If they can gain the upper hand and provide strong service to Dieumerci Mbokani, then Norwich will be well placed to take the spoils.
It is approaching two months since Sunderland last won a game in the Premier League, and now is the moment where that poor run must end. It is not as if they have not put themselves in ideal positions in recent weeks, but that all-important winning mentality has been lacking and they have been unable to see games through. With the season not too far away from coming to an end, the need for victory here is essential. A draw will most definitely not be enough, while defeat will leave them needing a miracle.
There were nerves on display among the Black Cats during their last match as they went down to leaders Leicester City, where they were picked off by a long forward pass before being caught on the break in stoppage time. Before going behind they had competed strongly, albeit a little erratic in possession and wayward in front of goal, while the key moment came when Jack Rodwell fired over when it seemed easier to score. Such chances need to go in if Sam Allardyce’s team are to stay up.
Defender Timm Klose is a major doubt for Norwich, so either Sebastian Bassong or Russell Martin will come in should he indeed miss out.
Duncan Watmore has returned from injury for Sunderland, meaning they have a fully-fit squad to choose from.
Last Meeting: A stunning goal from Alexander Tettey helped Norwich on their way to a vital success in the battle to avoid relegation in March 2014 as two first half goals were enough to beat their fellow strugglers.
After Robert Snodgrass had opened the scoring, midfielder Tettey struck a majestic 30-yard volley to seal it, and the away side’s day got worse when the on-loan Marcos Alonso was sent off in the closing stages.