Sunderland - Aston Villa Preview: Two out-of-form sides look to arrest their poor fortunes
The Black Cats play host to their manager's former club with both teams aiming to bring an end to underwhelming starts to the season and grab a vital three points
By Alex Hess
Bardsley, Cuellar, O'Shea, Rose
Johnson, Sessegnon, McClean
Lowton, Vlaar, Lichaj, Bennett
Albrighton, El Ahmadi, Delph, N'Zogbia
Martin O'Neill welcomes his old club to Wearside with the continued absence of his central defensive duo Titus Bramble (hip) and Wes Brown (calf) leaving his squad notably weakened at the back.
He should, though, have the option of recalling Seb Larsson to his line-up, with the Dane expected to have recovered from the knock which kept him out of Wednesday's Capital One Cup defeat to Middlesbrough.
The visitors also find themselves shorn of a key member of their backline, with Richard Dunne (groin) still not ready for a return to first-team action.
Youngster Joe Bennett will be available, however, returning from his one-match suspension, while Nathan Baker (ankle) and Ciaran Clark (knee) should also be at Paul Lambert's disposal, with both likely to shake off respective recent injuries.
Gary Gardner (cruciate) and Stiliyan Petrov (serious illness) remain long-term absentees for the Midlands side.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
- Saturday's game represents a meeting of the two lowest-scoring teams in the division. Sunderland sit rock bottom of the 'goals for' chart, having netted only six times in their opening eight league games, while Aston Villa are joint-second bottom with only one more from nine matches.
- The only clash between the two clubs since the Northern Irishman took over on Wearside also saw boths club coming into the fixture struggling for goals. Aptly, the game in April 2012 finished 0-0.
- Each of these clubs' league form so far this season offers miserable reading, having only secured two wins between them in a combined 17 games.
- Newcastle front-man Demba Ba currently stands as the Black Cats' second-top goalscorer so far this season, following his own goal in the Tyne-Wear derby. Steven Fletcher (pictured right) is Sunderland's only goalscorer from heir own squad, with an impressive six.
- Fletcher's strike partner, Stephane Sessegnon, has not found that net in 17 appearances going into this clash.
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Top 3 Predictions
Sunderland 2-1 Aston Villa
- 21.32 %
Sunderland 1-2 Aston Villa
- 13.97 %
Sunderland 1-1 Aston Villa
- 12.5 %
|Premier League (EPL)||1 Jan 2014||Sunderland 0 - Aston Villa 1|
|Premier League (EPL)||30 Nov 2013||Aston Villa 0 - Sunderland 0|
|Premier League (EPL)||29 Apr 2013||Aston Villa 6 - Sunderland 1|
|Premier League (EPL)||3 Nov 2012||Sunderland 0 - Aston Villa 1|
|Premier League (EPL)||21 Apr 2012||Aston Villa 0 - Sunderland 0|
|9 Mar 2014||Hull City 3 - Sunderland 0||FA|
|2 Mar 2014||Manchester City 3 - Sunderland 1||CCUP|
|22 Feb 2014||Arsenal FC 4 - Sunderland 1||EPL|
|15 Feb 2014||Sunderland 1 - Southampton 0||FA|
|8 Feb 2014||Sunderland 0 - Hull City 2||EPL|
|24||Carlos Javier Cuéllar||Defender|
|21||Jordan Nathaniel Bowery||Striker|
The native Wearsider has come in for criticism in some quarters in recent weeks, having so far failed to show the sort of form that convinced Martin O'Neill to splash out £10 million to prise the winger from Manchester City in the summer. In short, Johnson needs to start putting some more assertive performances together, and soon, if he is to keep his reputation as one of England's most exciting attackers and indeed to stay in Roy Hodgson's plans. The player himself will be aware of this, and up against young full-back Joe Bennett - who was sent off following some naive defending in his last outing against Norwich - Johnson may find himself with the perfect chance to impress.
The 21-year-old is likely to keep his place up front at the Stadium of Light, having found the net with a neat headed finish against Swindon on Tuesday. Benteke boasts an impressive pedigree at international level, regularly lining up alongside the likes of Eden Hazard, Mousa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini for Belgium in recent months, and with fellow forward Darren Bent finding himself out of favour under Paul Lambert, the powerful striker is likely to be given the breathing space to establish himself as the talismanic goalscorer that the Villa Park faithful desperately lack.