The FourFourTwo Preview: Crystal Palace vs Sunderland
Blunderland's side-splitting UK tour heads to Croydon.
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- WBA 2-2 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 1-2 Chelsea (Prem)
- Hull 2-0 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 2-0 Leicester (Prem)
- Palace 2-3e Newcastle (LC)
- S’land 0-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- So’ton 8-0 S’land (Prem)
- S’land 3-1 Stoke (Prem)
- S’land 0-0 Swansea (Prem)
- S’land 1-2 Stoke (LC)
Wes Brown's bungled backpass, Vito Mannone's bobble-off-the-boot, Santiago Vergini's candidate for the greatest own goal in the history of sport – just what the heck is going on at Sunderland, where costly cock-ups have seen the Black Cats become the laughing stock of the Premier League?
Manager Gus Poyet deemed the 8-0 demolition at Southampton to be his "most embarrassing moment in football", and although his charges showed far more commitment against Arsenal last weekend, ultimately they were undone by another two calamitous mistakes.
The Uruguayan resisted the urge to ring the changes ahead of the game, giving his beleaguered backline a chance to redeem themselves against Arsene Wenger's men.
But with that decision backfiring Poyet has some big calls to make ahead of Monday night's trip to Selhurst Park, with centre-back Brown and goalkeeper Mannone surely top of the agenda.
“Away from home, we had been good [before Southampton],” said a puzzled Poyet this week. "People are talking about clean sheets and we kept a couple – one in the cup as well. We were all right.”
Not anymore. Another horror show under the floodlights at Palace could see Sunderland owner Ellis Short pull the plug on the manager affectionately known as 'The Radio' after just 13 months in charge.
Harsh? Yes, considering how Poyet dragged them out of the drop zone last season and that Sunderland are currently only three points behind 10th-placed Hull, but don't forget Saturday signals the start of November, which these days is as synonymous with sacking managers as it is with growing facial fuzz for charity.
The bookies have Poyet at 5/1 second-favourite to be the next top-flight boss to get the boot, with David Moyes the 4/1 frontrunner to step in at the Stadium of Light should that occur.
Testing times for Gus, but he won't get much sympathy from Monday night's opposite number Neil Warnock, a manager who knows what it's like to be sacked at any given moment – QPR and Leeds being the latest two clubs to show him the door within months of them being taken over.
So with reports linking American billionaire Josh Harris with a Crystal Palace takeover gathering pace, Warnock's already pondering his future after less than three months in SE25, despite an encouraging start since taking over from Tony Pulis.
"I came along to Palace to help them out really," said the 65-year-old, with the air of a man keen to avoid shopping with wife Sharon on a Saturday afternoon.
"They had lost their manager at a difficult stage of the season, so it has been nice to steady the ship. We have a good group of players here. I am going to make sure I enjoy it."
There's just one problem, though: those pesky referees keep spoiling his fun, as they have done for the past 34 years. Just days after being charged with misconduct for comments made following the defeat to Chelsea, when he claimed referee Craig Pawson (not Dawson) was "influenced" by the opposition, Warnock was picking his words carefully following the draw at West Brom, when he insisted Craig Dawson (not Pawson) had "assaulted" keeper Julian Speroni for the Baggies' first goal in the 2-2 draw.
Damien Delaney returns from suspension for Palace, with Speroni also available after being withdrawn as a precaution against West Brom. Elsewhere, James McArthur and Scott Dann are expected to be back in contention following their recent knocks (thigh and knee respectively).
For the visitors, Sebastian Coates, Billy Jones, Emanuele Giaccherini and Ricky Alvarez aren't yet fit, but striker Steven Fletcher has been given the all-clear to play after limping off against Arsenal.
Between the sticks, expect Costel Pantilimon to replace Mannone, whose confidence appears to be lower than anyone's within the Sunderland ranks – so much so, he was close to tears after the Gunners defeat.
Key battle: Bolasie vs Reveillere
In Yannick Bolasie, Wilfried Zaha and Jason Puncheon, Palace have a number of tricky widemen but it's been Bolasie who's done the most damage this season, with the DR Congo international having his best game yet under Warnock against West Brom. A constant threat down the left (and occasionally the right), the first half saw Bolasie create a golden chance for Fraizer Campbell before he swung in the corner for Brede Hangeland's goal and – most impressively – teased Sebastien Pocognoli into bringing him down for Palace's penalty.
Against Sunderland the part-time MC (check out his grime battles with Bradley Wright-Phillips) could be up against the Black Cats' new man, Anthony Reveillere. With Jones still out and a shake-up needed in defence, now would seem the time to hand the former French international his debut at right-back, allowing Vergini to move into his preferred position in the centre alongside John O'Shea, which had worked reasonably well in their previous few games. Reveillere hasn't played a competitive game since May, for Napoli, but the 34-year-old does bring plenty of experience, having featured for Les Bleus at Euro 2012.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- S’land 0-0 Palace (PL, Mar 14)
- Palace 3-1 S’land (PL, Aug 13)
- S’land 0-0 Palace (Ch, Jan 07)
- Palace 1-0 S’land (Ch, Dec 06)
- S’land 2-1 Palace (FAC, Jan 05)
This will be the first time Warnock and Poyet have gone head-to-head in the top flight, but they have met before, two years ago this Sunday in a 2-2 draw between Brighton and Leeds – and it wasn't pretty.
With Warnock defending Luke Varney after the Leeds striker was accused of diving to win a penalty, Poyet let rip. "Neil would say that. He is a hypocrite. He is on the list of hypocrites now," he ranted.
And Gus wasn't done. "He's funny, Mr Warnock. Very funny. You cannot go one way only when it suits you. If it was my player, he dived, but because it was his player he was pushed – hypocrite."
"Gus is not happy, is he?" remarked Warnock in response, seemingly unfazed by the thought of being on Gus Poyet's 'hypocrite list' – which we'd love to see.
Facts and figures
- No side has conceded more goals in the final 15 minutes of Premier League matches this season than Palace (5, level with Everton and Chelsea).
- The Eagles’ last 3 Premier League games on a Monday have produced 17 goals in total, including last season’s 3-3 draw with Liverpool. Palace failed to win any of those games (D1 L2).
- Sunderland haven’t won any of their last 20 Premier League matches on a Monday (D8 L12). Their last win on a Monday in the PL was against Leicester in April 2002 (2-1).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
A sturdier display at the back from the Black Cats – which should give Gus a bit more time – but it's not enough to deny Palace the points. 1-0 to the Eagles.
Back 1-0 at 13/2 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication