West Ham United v Sunderland AFC
English Premier League – 3pm Saturday 22nd September 2012
Sunderland’s previous visit to The Boylen Ground was on the last day of the 2010/11 season and resulted in a 0-3 victory that catapulted the Black Cats into the top 10 for only the third time in over half a century – cementing the Hammers relegation from the Premiership in the process.
This visit could prove to be equally historic as its potentially the last time Sunderland will grace the ground West Ham have occupied for 108 years, assuming the Hammers are able to secure a move to the Olympic Stadium. At least it would give their most famous fan, Russell Brand, another opportunity to prance around the Olympic pitch again.
With only one defeat in their first 4 games and a 100% home record (beating Aston Vila and Fulham) the Irons have made a promising start, gaining 7 points and maintaining a top-10 position. Sam Allardyce usually adopts a 4-2-3-1 formation at home and is likely to retain this system with Cole as the lone striker. One thing that is certain is the emphasis will be on perspiration rather than inspiration, as Big Sam’s teams are always robust and hard-working following the template he developed at Bolton and Blackburn (best not mention Newcastle).
Since we are talking about Newcastle we can be thankfully that ex-Magpie Andy Carroll is unlikely to recover from his hamstring injury in time. However, our old Geordie nemesis, Kevin Nolan, will be a real threat and is their top scorer with 2 goals. Mark Noble, a product of the club’s fabled youth academy also adds additional talent to their midfield and I can envisage Big-Sam introducing the technically gifted Yossi Benayoun later in the proceedings as he can potentially change the game, despite lacking match fitness.
I expect Martin O’Neil to remain loyal to his 4-4-1-1 formation with our own Scottish Braveheart, Stephen Fletcher, leading the line. I’m praying that Adam Johnson will be available as I can see him having a field day against Sunderland old boy, George McCartney, as the Hammers have yet to concede a goal at home. One area of concern is the form of Stephane Sessegnon who has looked well short of the form that prompted the press to link him with some of Europe’s biggest clubs. However, I expect that O’Neill has some tactical ‘Irons’ in the fire and either Louis Saha or Frazier Campbell may be viable alternatives later in the game.
The ‘case for the defence’ is less clear with Danny Rose and Carlos Cuellar both suffering injuries and the former desperately needing match practice. However, Titus Bramble and Jack Colback are available to provide cover, so O’Neill has some tough calls to make – but that’s what he is paid for.
As I highlighted last week Sunderland’s last league victory came on 24 March (now 12 games ago) but I sense the sweet smell of success and predict an AWAY WIN for Sunderland.
Tell us what you think?