Sunderland are coming to a pivotal point in their season, having built a solid foundation in the first half of the campaign now is the time Steve Bruce will be looking for his side to push on towards securing Europa League qualification. Despite Liverpool leapfrogging them in the table, they’re in a good position, currently sitting seventh with four points in hand over their nearest rivals, but have a tough run of fixtures to come. After hosting Tottenham, they travel to Everton before a trip to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal. They then welcome Liverpool to the Stadium of Light before travelling to Manchester City.
Having lost their last two league games on the bounce, it’s critical for Sunderland to respond with three points against Spurs. Otherwise they could see all their previous hard work to get into this position wasted with a slide down the table. The positive is if they can get through this run of fixtures in a good position, their run-in looks relatively comfortable. These will be the games that make or break Sunderland’s season.
Champions League Focus
The race for the Champions League spots is hotting up, and with a trip to the San Siro to face Milan to come on Tuesday Harry Redknapp’s men will be fully aware that they’ll need to come to places like the Stadium of Light looking for three points to stay in the hunt. Sunderland have only lost twice at home this season, but Spurs will be heartened to know that these defeats both came in their last eight games – with the most recent coming in their last home game against Chelsea.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out who the side on form is. Sunderland have only won three of their last eight games, drawing once and losing the rest; while Spurs have won five, drawn twice and only lost once – away to Everton at the beginning of January. That said, Spurs are a lot more vulnerable on the road, of the five defeats they’ve sustained this season four of them have been away from White Hart Lane. They also had a tough time cracking the Sunderland nut in the reverse fixture, which they drew 1-1.
Sunderland are still without Danny Welbeck (hamstring) who isn’t expected back for first time action until the end of March. Likewise, David Meyler (knee) won’t be back in contention until the end of next month at the earliest. Fraizer Campbell (knee) will most likely be out for the rest of the season.
Captain Lee Cattermole (back) remains on the sidelines, as does Michael Turner (knee) who returned to training this week after a three month absence with a ligament injury sustained when he collided with the post during his side’s game against Everton back in November.
Manager Steve Bruce opted for three centre-backs in his side’s 3-2 loss against Stoke City and is likely to revert to his more familiar 4-5-1 formation for this game, with a tossup between John Mensah and Anton Ferdinand partnering Titus Bramble at the heart of the Sunderland defence.
Possible starting XI: Gordon; Onuoha, Bramble, Mensah, Bardsley; Elmohamady, Henderson, Richardson, Muntari, Sessegnon; Gyan.
Tottenham travel to the north-east with three of their most influential players at the cusp of returning to first team action. Rafael van der Vaart (calf) is the most likely to feature, as he sustained a minor calf injury in last weekend’s game against Bolton. Gareth Bale (back) is touch and go, and may well start from the bench with Tuesday’s Champions League tie against Milan just round the corner. While Luka Modric (appendicitis) is expected to miss out on the visit to Sunderland.
Other absentees for Spurs include Younes Kaboul (knee) who isn’t expected back until the middle of next month, as well as Tom Huddlestone (ankle) who is also out for at least another month. Ledley King (groin) remains on the sidelines.
Peter Crouch missed England’s midweek 2-1 victory over Denmark but is expected to return to the starting line-up for the trip to Sunderland.
Possible starting XI: Gomes; Corluka, Gallas, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Palacios, Jenas, Pienaar; Crouch, Defoe.