Outside of the relegation zone with only four games to go, Sunderland will be looking to make a potentially huge leap towards Premier League survival by winning away to a Stoke City side that has suffered a staggering loss of form in recent weeks.
Lying slap bang in the middle of the table with 47 points, Stoke are in a very comfortable position yet manager Mark Hughes currently has plenty to mull over, with four goals having been conceded in the club’s last three games and just one scored in reply. Even with the number of injuries they have been forced to contend with, such a run is unacceptable for a side that is not only well known for being resilient, but one that possesses a squad containing such a depth of quality and sophistication.
One thing the Potters do lack is a striker capable of scoring a high volume of goals. Mame Biram Diouf does not have enough killer instinct when chances come his way, while Joselu showed how profligate he can be when he passed more than one very presentable chance last weekend at Manchester City, another game where they defended desperately poorly as a team. It was easy to feel for their outstanding performer Marko Arnautovic, whose industry on the left wing went tragically unrewarded.
Such is the fragility the hosts are displaying at present, Sunderland may have a right to be considered as favourites to take the points from this one and what’s more, they continue to play like a side that has it very much within them to stay up. With the help of some shrewd signings in the January transfer window, Sam Allardyce has turned the Wearsiders into a very solid and competitive unit, which in turn has won back the adoration of the club’s supporters.
That was in evidence in their last match at home to Arsenal, where every time they threatened to get near their opponents’ goal they were roared on from the stands. Despite failing to score it was a game where they carried a persistent attacking threat and looked dangerous every time they entered the final third, while keeping a clean sheet ensured that the only thing they really needed to improve on was their passing and ball retention. If they can resolve that here, the Black Cats will surely fancy their chances.
Erik Pieters is back for Stoke after a two-match ban, and Xherdan Shaqiri could also feature along with Jonathan Walters. Jakob Haugaard will be in goal in the absence of Shay Given and Jack Butland.
In contrast, Sunderland have a fully-fit squad as Jeremain Lens has recovered from the virus that kept him out against Arsenal.
Last Meeting: The context of this match last season was similar to how it is now, only Stoke came into it in better form. Needing points to aid their bid for safety, Sunderland took a very early lead as Connor Wickham capitalised on a mistake from goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, but the home side recovered to dominate the first half and levelled through Charlie Adam’s piledriver. There were good chances for both sides after the interval, but neither could find a winner.
Played for both – Liam Lawrence: Signed in the summer of 2004, Lawrence helped Sunderland to promotion in his first season but was then part of the side that finished with a meagre 15 points in 2005-06, during which he scored three times in 29 outings. He later helped Stoke to the top-flight in 2008 with much greater success, making a total of 45 Premier League appearances before leaving in 2010.