Sunderland travel to West Bromwich Albion tomorrow, hoping to end a dismal run against Steve Clarke's men. The Baggies have been victorious in five of their last six games against the Black Cats, and Martin O'Neill will be hoping his side can vastly improve upon the 0-4 hammering that came their way in this fixture a year ago.
Sunderland Team News
On-loan full-back Danny Rose will not feature, with parent club Spurs having taken the youngster back to London to assess the reoccurrence of his hamstring injury that saw him removed against Arsenal two weeks ago.
Captain Lee Cattermole will miss out. The skipper's knee remains a problem for the Black Cats' divisive midfielder. David Vaughan, who may have expected to fill in for Cattermole, is also out through injury.
Elsewhere, many are waiting tentatively to see whether or not Danny Graham is afforded his first start in red and white. Graham has featured from the bench in the previous two games against Reading and Arsenal but, following Steven Fletcher's recent comments about being comfortable with no longer playing as a lone striker, it would be no great surprise to see Graham make his full debut at The Hawthorns.`
West Bromwich Albion Team News
Defender Goran Popov will miss out, as the Macedonian international serves his second game of a three match ban for spitting at Kyle Walker in the recent 0-1 defeat to Spurs.
Peter Odemwingie, who caused himself much embarrassment, could be due a return to the starting lineup. Odemwingie's teammates appear to have forgiven the striker for his attempt to force a move to QPR - in spite of a reported training ground bust-up with Steven Reid, and manager Steve Clarke is said to be considering the Nigerian's inclusion tomorrow.
Romelu Lukaku is one who is hoping to start in front of Odemwingie. Having scored from the bench in the win at Liverpool, Lukaku is looking to displace Shane Long.
Injury-wise, the Baggies are relatively free from worry. Youssouf Mulumbu came back from a knee injury in the Anfield victory without any trouble, and is expected to start again against Sunderland.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, Colback, Bramble, O'Shea; Johnson, Sessegnon, N'Diaye, Larsson; Fletcher; Graham
West Brom: Foster; Reid, Ridgewell, Olsson, McAuley; Dorrans, Brunt, Morrison, Mulumbu, Yacob; Long
Key Matchup: Alfred N'Diaye vs Youssouf Mulumbu
The battle of two midfield powerhouses will be key this weekend. Last year at The Hawthorns, Sunderland found themselves unable to combat the Baggies in midfield, and Mulumbu's presence could see similar occur tomorrow. The Congolese international is arguably what Sunderland will hope Alfred N'Diaye matures into - strong in the tackle, positionally aware and capable of getting forward and creating chances. Indeed, Mulumbu has created no fewer than 18 chances in the league for his side this season.
As my own recent piece covered, N'Diaye is capable of getting into promising attacking positions himself. However, without Lee Cattermole, Sunderland will be lacking an element of steel and grit in central midfield, and it will be to the young Frenchman that they turn. As the aforementioned article also covered, N'Diaye has shown his ability to do good defensive work not just in front of his own defence, but higher upfield too. If he can do this tomorrow against Mulumbu, he could go a long way to negating one of the home side's biggest threats.
Recent Form: LDLLW
Loss: West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Queen's Park Rangers (Bothroyd 75)
Draw: West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Aston Villa (Brunt 49, Odemwingie 83; Benteke 12, Agbonlahor 31)
Loss: Everton 2-1 West Bromwich Albion (Baines 29, 45+2 (pen); Long 65)
Loss: West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur (Bale 67)
Win: Liverpool 0-2 West Bromwich Albion (McAuley 81, Lukaku 90)
Last Time Around: West Brom 4-0 Sunderland, 25/02/12
Sunderland's hopes of going into the following week's Tyne-Wear derby on a positive note were dashed as early as the third minute the last time these two sides met in the Midlands. Scarcely 180 seconds into the Wearsiders' visit to The Hawthorns, Martin O'Neill's men found themselves behind, Peter Odemwingie nodding the home side in front. Four minutes before half time their lead was doubled, via another header, this time by James Morrison.
The Black Cats had won five of their previous six away ties but any chance of that good form continuing was firmly ended three minutes after the break. A swift counter-attack, started off by goalkeeper Ben Foster, resulted in Odemwingie thrashing home his second of the game. Sunderland's embarrassment was completed late on, when Keith Andrews fired home an empathic fourth.
The Ref: Roger East
This will be only the 47-year-old's fifth time in charge of a Premier League game this season, however the man from Wiltshere has officiated each of the two sides already this term. He took charge of Sunderland's 2-2 draw at Swansea City back in September, and was the man in the middle a week later as West Brom went down 0-3 at Fulham - a game in which East dismissed Peter Odemwingie for the visitors.
This is East's first season refereeing Premier League games, so his past experience with each side is fairly limited. In his four games in the top division so far he has dished out just five yellow cards, though three players have seen him produce a red card. In addition, he has given just one Premier League penalty this term - awarding Fulham a penalty against the Baggies which Dimitar Berbatov duly dispatched.
What The Managers Said
I would rather have been playing cup matches [than taking a break to Dubai], but we were joined there by other Premier League teams who also thought it was a good idea.
We had an opportunity to see the sun and get a few proper days' training in, and I think it worked out well.
What happens over the course of the final third of the season is the most important thing. We start with West Bromwich Albion.
Hopefully the break will have re-energised the players and got them going. The proof is always in the pudding.
I have done this before with other teams, sometimes to fantastic effect.
On Danny Rose's injury:
Danny's likely to be a few more weeks.
I think it's less serious than the previous hamstring problems.
But, because he's on loan, Tottenham Hotspur get involved as well and they want to assess him.
That's quite right, he's their player and they like to see what's happening. He'll come back to us on Monday.
I don't really look at doing the double over a team.
The trick in the Premier League is just to pick up points as and when you can.
Our performance at Sunderland was really good so we've got good memories of playing against them, but in recent weeks they have tightened up a lot.
They have started picking up good results and they are stronger defensively than maybe they were earlier in the season. They're not letting so many goals in.
We expect a really difficult challenge, which you always get when you play against a Martin O'Neill team, because they're fired up to give him 100 per cent every game.
Following the 2-0 win at Liverpool:
We were always one performance away from getting back on track.
One results doesn't get away from the fact that it's been a difficult six or seven weeks with not too many positives.
Coming off the back of what has been such a difficult run for us it was a big result.
I've been telling the players for the last six weeks that we were just one win away and you get one win and then you can kick on again and that's the platform we gave ourselves at the start of the season.
That allowed us to go on and get 33 points before Christmas which is a big effort.
We're hopeful that [the Liverpool win] can kick-start us again to get our season going because we know we can still have a really good season and achieve good things.
Roker Report Predicts
Recent form would suggest an away victory is unlikely. Sunderland have failed to win any of their last six encounters with the Baggies, losing five of them - you have to go back to Ricky Sbragia and December 2008's 4-0 win for their last victory over West Brom.
Each of the last four games between the two have featured at least four goals, yet, as Steve Clarke has alluded to, Sunderland's defence is much improved of late. Indeed, November's shipping of four goals was something of an anomaly and, even allowing for their defence's annoying trait of making daft mistakes, a high-scoring game looks unlikely.
Though the signs probably point in favour of a home win, positivity on our behalf suggests this could well finish up a 1-1 draw.