Between them, Sunderland and WBA have been relegated from the Premier League a record eight times and when the season started both sets of fans had very different perspectives on how 2012-13 would unfold.
The Baggies were many pundits favourites to struggle, but with an impressive home record of six wins from seven games including victories over Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton, they have charged into a Champions League spot and made the ‘experts’ choke on their cornflakes. In contrast, Sunderland are currently languishing in 15th position despite early expectations of a strong top-10 place. However, it should be noted that the last 11 games have only included four home fixtures.
WBA may not be a team that contains any household names, but Shane Long (six goals and five assists) has proved to be a shrewd investment and is ably assisted by Peter Odemwinge in an attack that has scored as more league goals this season than the entire Sunderland squad. Their midfield includes tricky winger James Morrison (born in Darlington) and the more exotic sounding Youssouf Mulumbu who provides a physical and competitive presence. You may also recall that in the corresponding fixture last season the Baggies bagged two goals in the first five minutes, only for the Black Cats to claw back a point. Some things never change and it seems that Albion still don’t travel well, as they’re recent away defeat to Wigan testifies.
Thankfully for Sunderland, four of their next five games are at home. However, the Mackems need to convert these into wins and due to the recent upturn in the Black Cats fortunes we can hopefully avoid a horror show at the Stadium of Fright. A key element will be the attitude and patience of fans, and it may be wise to issue tranquillisers at the turnstiles if it stops them transferring their anxiety onto the pitch. An early goal would certainly calm the natives and would be purr-fect for the Cats!
Martin O’Neill’s team selection may be disrupted by the recent revelation that Northumbria Police are investigating alleged death threats aimed at James McClean. The winger came under considerable criticism on Twitter for refusing to wear a Remembrance Day poppy on his shirt during the recent 2-1 reverse at Everton and likely contributed to him being consigned to the bench at Fulham. I expect, injuries permitting, that O’Neill will keep faith with the team that won at Craven Cottage with the key decision being whether to use the defensive Jack Colback, or more offensive Craig Gardner (following his suspension) in the middle of midfield.
I’m predicting that ‘WBA’ wont convert into “We’re Bloody Awful” like Sunderland were when the Baggies bashed us 4-0 on their ground in Feb 2012; and I’m going for a home win for the Black Cats. Just think, by 3pm on Saturday we could be safely anchored in mid table, leapfrogging Newcastle in the process – now that would make a great weekend.
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