Sunderland make the journey south on Saturday to take on West Ham with both teams facing the real threat of relegation this season. The Hammers have slipped down the table of late, and they find themselves level on points with both Crystal Palace and Fulham.
Goal difference is the only thing currently separating the Irons from sitting in the relegation zone, and the game against bottom of the table Sunderland gives them a chance to pick up some points. The Black Cats find themselves at the foot of the table and five points adrift of the three teams above them. A win could bring them to within two points of those around them, and could drag West Ham further into the relegation fight.
West Ham currently have a number of injury absentees for the game. Striker Andy Carroll is still missing with an ankle problem. Carroll is joined on the side lines by Ricardo Vaz Te (Shoulder), Winston Reid (Ankle), Mladen Petric (Calf) and Stewart Downing (Calf). James Collins and Guy Demel should be fit whilst Defender James Collins faces a late fitness test.
Sunderland are only without two players for the game. Defender Carlos Cuellar won’t return by, at the earliest, next week after suffering from a thigh injury. Goalkeeper Kieron Westwood is still out with a shoulder injury so Vito Mannone will continue to deputise.
The recent form guide between the two does not read favourably for the Hammers. West Ham have lost three of their last four meetings in the league. The four league games prior to this were better results for the Irons, as they won three of those four meetings. West Ham have only lost one of their last nine home meetings against Sunderland in the Premier League. Four out of West Ham’s last five games have seen a single team score three or more goals. Sunderland are yet to win away this season in the Premier League. They are also without a goal in their last five away games. Sunderland have lost all four of their games against London opposition this season.
Adam Johnson scored his first goal of the season at the weekend in Sunderland’s 2-1 loss to Tottenham. The career of the winger has not progressed the way he would of hoped since leaving Manchester City, but he has the chance to be the talisman for this Sunderland side. Johnson needs to become the main source of creativity for Sunderland if they are to have any hope of survival. His tally of one goal and one assist needs improving, but Gus Poyet’s arrival has seemed to give him more confidence. If he is able to create and weigh-in with the odd goal, like he did at Man City, Johnson will be a valuable asset to Sunderland in their quest for survival.
West Ham’s main struggle this season has been in scoring goals. Apart from the 3-0 defeat of Fulham, they have only managed two goals in their last six games, one of which was an own goal. Carlton Cole was re-signed by Sam Allardyce after proving his fitness to the Hammers boss. Coming into a Premier League season without a good pre-season is tough for any player, so Cole has found his chances hard to come by since re-signing. He has managed one goal since his return, with his first touch after coming on in the 3-0 victory at Fulham. This showed the importance that a striker can have in a team, at a time where West Ham were playing without a striker. Mobido Maiga is yet to score this season for the Hammers meaning Cole is the only striker at the club with a goal. Until the return of Andy Carroll, Cole needs to step up for the Hammers and try and contribute to the Irons’ cause.
Games towards the bottom of the table are always hard to predict. Both teams go into the game on the back of two defeats in a row which means that this game is seen as a must win for each side. The Hammers will have home advantage and won their last home game against Fulham 3-0 in a game when they really needed a good result. Gus Poyet will have his players up for the game as a loss will see them slip further behind those around them. However, Sunderland’s poor away form cannot be discounted so a 2-0 West Ham win is my prediction.