Sunderland will be looking to leap out of the relegation spots for the first time since the middle of September when they face an out-of-sorts Southampton side at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
The Premier League’s bottom side reduced the gap between themselves and safety to just two points after they humiliated rivals Crystal Palace last weekend, and David Moyes will know that a vital win could lift Sunderland to safety if other results go their way.
Their opponents Southampton will be looking to return to winning ways after a poor stretch of recent form has sent them free-falling down the table.
The Boot Room previews a crucial clash in Sunderland’s bid to avoid relegation.
The hosts, who have been touted by most to be one of the dead certs for relegation this season, have started 2017 with real intent after a woeful start to the Premier League campaign.
Hard-fought draws against Liverpool and Tottenham have given David Moyes’ side something to cheer about, and they followed this up with a thrashing of relegation rivals Crystal Palace.
Although the Black Cats are still rooted to the bottom of the table, they are only two points away from safety now and morale is high following their convincing win last week.
Southampton are perhaps the opposite of this; despite their EFL Cup ambitions, their Premier League form has taken a turn for the worse after only one win in their last seven matches.
The main problem has been with the Saints’ defence, who have shipped 15 goals in these seven matches – only one less than the number they had conceded in their previous 17 league matches.
For the hosts, there are concerns over the fitness of John O’Shea, Adnan Januzaj and Jack Rodwell after the trio picked up knocks during the win over Crystal Palace.
Rodwell came off in the second-half with a suspected pulled hamstring and is unlikely to start, so it could open the door for Darren Gibson to start his first match since moving from Everton last month.
Southampton’s centre-back crisis is set to continue at the Stadium of Light, as the signing of Martin Caceres isn’t expected to go through by Saturday.
This leaves Claude Puel with only Maya Yoshida as a recognised central defender, after Jose Fonte’s exit and the injury to Virgil van Dijk; 23-year-old Jack Stephens is set to retain his starting position.
January signing Manolo Gabbiadini is set to start alongside Jay Rodriguez after scoring within the first ten minutes of his debut against West Ham last week, meaning Shane Long remains on the bench.
Sunderland will be going into Saturday’s match full of confidence after their huge victory over relegation rivals Crystal Palace last weekend, and David Moyes will be instructing his side to re-find that performance as they look to leap out of the relegation zone.
Southampton boss Claude Puel will be hoping that a victory over the Black Cats can re-start his side’s Premier League campaign after a recent loss of form, and will set up with intent to attack.
Draws against Liverpool and Tottenham since the start of the calendar year, alongside their win over Palace, have shown that Sunderland are a side on the up, and they won’t sit back against the Saints.
Expect a highly entertaining match between two sides who have been leaky at the back lately – it could turn into the clichéd case of attack is the best form of defence at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland 2-2 Southampton