Sunderland v Stoke, Premier League, February 1, 2010
“I know that we’re going on a bad run as things stand, but it won’t be the first time or the last time it happens to me in my career. It’s all about turning things around and making sure that you come out of it going in the right direction and I’m determined to do exactly thatâ€¦ What we all need to do is to stick together and support each other and just get that mentality back that we had earlier in the season.” â€“ Steve Bruce.
Incredibly, Sunderlandâ€™s last Premier League victory came in November, a 1-0 win over Arsenal. Since then the Mackems have been on an alarming slide which leaves them just three points above the relegation zone, albeit with better goal difference than the nearest teams but this is their game in hand and they really need the three points. (Sunderland are 13/1 to be relegated.)
In stark contrast, Stoke have been impressive in 2010 and are two points ahead of their hosts and will be quietly confident of producing a win at the Stadium of Light. The Potters also have a host of ex-Sunderland players who will be eager to prove their quality.
The fine start to the season from Steve Bruceâ€™s side looked to have put them in contention for a European position through the league but now they have to be wary of being sucked into the relegation dog fight. The Sunderland fans have tasted just one win in over three months of football and that was an FA Cup third round victory over Barrow.
Injuries have played their part, most notably at Stamford Bridge in mid-January when Sunderland fielded a make-shift defence and conceded seven and could have let in a lot more in one of the worst defensive displays of the Premier League season. (Sunderland are 1/2 not the keep a clean sheet.) Bruce has now targeted this match and the home match with Wigan next Saturday as must win games to turn the season around.
One of the highlights of their early season form was the solidity of the spine of the Sunderland team and that could return if Michael Turner and Lee Cattermole play after injury absences for the visit of Stoke. As ever Darren Bent will be a goal threat (he has scored two in the last three games) but much more is expected of Kenwyne Jones (5/1 to score first), a transfer target for the likes of Liverpool, who has scored once since the beginning of October. (Sunderland are 2/1 to score in both halves.)
An unwritten law of football is that ex-players score at their old clubs, if that is the case Stoke have a great chance of winning comfortably. No less than half a dozen members of Tony Pulisâ€™ side are ex-Sunderland players: Thomas Sorensen, Dean Whitehead, Danny Collins, Liam Lawrence, Danny Higginbotham and Rory Delap (18/1 to score first). Between them they clocked up over 675 appearances on Wearside and three of them (Sorensen, Collins and Whitehead) are on the shortlist for Sunderlandâ€™s player of the last decade.
Stoke may well have Bosnian keeper Asmir Begovic in their ranks following his expected move from Portsmouth and after their impressive FA Cup win over Arsenal last week, confidence should be high. (Stoke are 16/5 to keep a clean sheet, 2/7 against.) After a shaky December where they picked up just one point from a possible 15, January has seen them progress in the cup and beat Fulham and draw with Liverpool at home.
Such is their squad strength these days that Tony Pulis has talked of talked of rotating his strikers. Ricardo Fuller (6/1 to score first), Mamady Sidibe and Tuncay will all be a threat, whoever gets the nod at the Stadium of Light. Stoke have also already beaten Sunderland this season, in August thanks to a solitary goal from Dave Kitson. (Stoke are 12/1 to win both halves.)
This is a key match for Sunderland and they will likely come out of the blocks all guns blazing. Neither of these teams score many goals, Stoke incredibly have just four away all season. As ever Darren Bent (7/2 to score first) could be the difference and it is unlikely to be pretty or a match for the neutrals.
101gg predicts: Sunderland 2 â€“ Stoke 0 (11/1)
Full match odds here.