The Premier League’s two bottom sides will face each other when Sunderland travel the short distance to rivals Middlesbrough for the North-East derby on Wednesday evening.
The visitors’ fate looks all-but sealed as the Black Cats sit 12 points adrift of safety with six games left to play, and defeat at the Riverside could see them mathematically relegated on Saturday afternoon.
Middlesbrough’s prospects are looking equally as bleak at the moment, seven points behind Hull City with just five games left to fight for their Premier League status next season.
Both of these two sides have been utterly abject in recent times, and it’s hard to find an argument against them being the two worst sides in the Premier League this season.
Middlesbrough are without a win in 16 league matches after their 4-0 humiliation at the hands of Bournemouth last weekend, only picking up six points from a possible 48 since the end of December.
Defeats against Crystal Palace and Hull City, alongside tepid draws with relegation rivals Burnley, Swansea City and Leicester City have failed to see them mount any real challenge to avoid the drop.
David Moyes’ Sunderland outfit have been equally as poor of late, only picking up one victory in their last 17 matches as relegation now looks nothing more than a formality at the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats went seven matches without scoring a goal in between February and April, and have had critical defeats to Burnley, Stoke City and Leicester City along the way.
For the hosts, Victor Valdes and Grant Leadbitter are doubtful for Wednesday’s key clash through respective rib and hamstring problems whilst midfielder Marten de Roon is also expected to miss out after picking up an injury during the damaging 4-0 loss to Bournemouth last weekend.
Gaston Ramirez is ruled out after being sent-off for two bookable offences at the Vitality Stadium, so the exciting Adama Traore could be awarded his first Middlesbrough start since the defeat against Hull City.
Sunderland manager David Moyes could be tempted to name an unchanged starting eleven from the side that showed some character to come back and draw against West Ham ten days ago in London.
On that occasion a late Fabio Borini goal salvaged a point for the Black Cats, and the Italian may have done enough to convince Moyes into giving him a starting berth in the place of winger Wahbi Khazri.
Bryan Oviedo is set to miss the rest of the campaign, so Javier Manquillo is expected to reclaim his role in the Sunderland back four.
Match Prediction: Middlesbrough 0-1 Sunderland
These two sides are the only teams in the Premier League this season yet to reach the 30-goal mark, so a tight and cagey affair could turn out to be the order of the day at the Riverside on Wednesday.
Unfortunately this game perhaps comes a little too late in both teams’ respective run-ins, and with relegation to the Championship all-but sealed it could be a matter of playing for local pride instead.
Middlesbrough will know that this game is the one they need to target if they have an outside chance of survival – especially considering the fact that they are still yet to play Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea this season – and with the home support behind them they could have the slight edge.
Yet David Moyes’ side have shown more grit and fight than their opponents this season, despite their league position, and they could channel the spirit of their 4-0 win at Crystal Palace in a narrow victory.