Sunday’s only Premier League fixture sees Sunderland make a 247 mile journey south to Norfolk where they take on a resurgent Norwich City, who will be looking to extend their unbeaten record to eight games.
Since their defeat at the hands of Chelsea, Norwich have gone on an encouraging run which has seen them concede a miserly three goals, a vast improvement on the nine goals they concede in the three matches prior to that. Along the way Hughton’s charges have picked up some big scalps in Arsenal, Manchester United and a credible draw against Everton.
Sunderland in that same period of time have picked up a meagre six points from a possible 21. This has not gone down well with the Mackems. Martin O’Neill has been subject to intense media scrutiny following stories of him offering his resignation. Encouragingly the Black Cats have scored five times in their last three matches, in comparison to the seven they scored all season before their tie against Fulham.
The previous meeting between these two sides at Carrow Road saw Norwich come out on top with goals from Steve Morrison and Leon Barnett. This defeat proved to be the last game of Steve Bruce’s reign at Sunderland.
The Canaries’ defensive solidity has been given plenty of praise in the past weeks. A size-able chunk of that credit has to go to John Ruddy. News of his long term injury layoff due to a torn thigh muscle will come as a huge blow to Hughton. Top scorer Grant Holt is expected to lead the line once again and will be expected to keep the Sunderland backline busy. Russell Martin is also expected to be in contention following a back problem.
Sunderland have their own injury woes to contend with. Club captain Lee Cattermole is expected to be ruled out for the foreseeable future with a knee injury. Jack Colback is expected to fill the void left by the steely midfielder. James McClean’s impressive run out during mid-week could see him pushing for a starting berth ahead of Adam Johnson.
While Hughton has brought defensive stability to the side, the goals have dried up. At a similar stage last season Norwich had score nine more goals in comparison to this season’s 11. Only QPR have found a smaller amount success in front of goal.
Meanwhile, Sunderland are in midst of an alarming drop down the table. The Black Cats sit in an uncomfortable 16th position, one point above the drop zone. Martin O’Neill’s side have had just 36 shots on goal this season, the fewest in the league. They also hold the unwanted record of scoring the second fewest goals in the league alongside Norwich.
A goal fest in this match is far from a certainty. A single goal might be enough to see either side come away with all three points.
Stephane Sessegnon: Sunderland’s upturn in fortunes in front of goal have a striking correlation with the return to form of Sessegnon. His mini-revival has seen him pitch in with two goals and an assist in the last three games. Playing in the hole behind Fletcher should give Sessegnon enough room to work with and inspire some magic at Carrow Road.
Javier Garrido: The former Manchester City player has become a permanent fixture in this Norwich squad. Only Brad Johnson has spent more time on the pitch for the Canaries this season. The Spaniard’s attacking flair has seen him pick up two assists in the last three games. And with Norwich scoring 45% of their goals from headers this season, Hughton will hope Garrido can keep the service coming.
Prediction: Norwich 1-1 Sunderland
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