Since Sunderland beat Newcastle and Everton – two teams against which they had only previously achieved one pitiful win in 36 attempts, with few pundits offering little hope of success, the Wearsiders now seem on the brink of safety with their best run in the league this year.
Certainly, if the Black Cats can achieve a notable hat trick of consecutive victories, it will be the first time it has occurred since January 2012 when Martin O’Neill masterminded an end to Sunderland’s perennial relegation worries. It therefore seems ironic that two of O’Neill’s former clubs go head-to-head with important points and Premiership survival at stake.
To add additional spice to an already highly charged occasion, as a protégé of O’Neill from his Celtic days, Villa boss Paul Lambert who is still loyal to his former manager will be doubly intent on engineering a Villa win against Paolo Di Canio’s Wearside Warriors. If that wasn’t enough, there have been suggestions of potential ill-will between the two sets of fans as Di Canio – then managing Swindon Town – appeared to taunt Villa fans about relegation after a League Cup game earlier this season. In return, some Mackems have never forgiven Darren Bent for his defection to Villa and how their fans goaded them on internet message boards on being unable to hold onto their star asset. It therefore hardly seems surprising that Sky Sports snapped up this game as it has all the demonic intent of an episode of Spartacus.
However, I doubt Sunderland’s newest and most famous fan, Bud the police horse, who was made an honorary Black Cat will care too much. Bud came to fame in the aftermath of Sunderland’s 3-0 derby win when he was punched by a deranged Geordie in one of the most shocking images of the 2012-13 Premier League season. You can be sure that Sunderland restaurant owners will be holding their breath and praying for a win, after billionaire chairman, Ellis Short, left a £1,800 tip following last weeks victory.
Assuming that Sunderland’s reinvigorated midfield dynamo, Seb Larsson, can avoid any more crazy back passes, and Danny Graham can find his shooting boots, then that magical point target beckons as explained by David Vaughan below:
“I do think reaching 40 points will be significant if we can do it. It will make it difficult for other teams to catch us, with games running out – especially as our goal difference is good compared to a lot of other teams.”
Whatever the result, this game will be significant to one player. Although fleet-footed full back, Danny Rose, will be concentrating on the battle for Premier League safety before considering his future at Sunderland, this could be his last away appearance in the famous Red & White shirt for the loan star. This is because he cannot appear in the Wearsiders last away game – ironically against Spurs. Most sources agree that it would take a sizable investment in the region of £8million to convert his season-long loan deal from Tottenham into a permanent arrangement.
Aston Villa will certainly be praying for a repeat of their last meeting in November 2012, when they beat Sunderland 0-1 at the Stadium of Light. Personally, I can only see Di Canio’s combination of exuberance and managerial acumen gain points for Sunderland on a ground where they have enjoyed notable success in recent years.
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