Premier League | Stadium of Light | Sat 21 Dec | 3pm
The ‘Friendship Trophy’ decides to man up and get nasty.
Way back in 1985, Sunderland and Norwich contested the Milk Cup Final. The East Anglians won 1-0 – poor Gordon Chisholm bundled in an own goal – but the fixture was best remembered for the unusual camaraderie between the two sets of supporters. Such was the bonhomie on what Canaries forward Mick Channon described as “a lovely day” that every meeting between the two sides since has been marked by the contesting of the Friendship Trophy – possibly the most pointlessly nice trophy in world sport.
- S'land *2-1 Chelsea (LC)
- West Ham 0-0 S'land (Prem)
- S'land 1-2 Spurs (Prem)
- S'land 3-4 Chelsea (Prem)
- Villa 0-0 S'land (Prem)
- Norwich 1-1 Swansea (Prem)
- WBA 0-2 Norwich (Prem)
- Liverpool 5-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Norwich 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Newcastle 2-1 Norwich (Prem)
Much as the mental image of Gus Poyet sending Chris Hughton away from the Stadium of Light with a cotton friendship bracelet and some Uruguayan choripan in a tuppaware box appeals, it should be noted both sides were relegated immediately after that 1985 clash. If they want to avoid similar fates this term, it’s probably time to conclude that good guys finish last, lunch is for wimps and there are no friends left in the cruel, heartless world of the Premier League.
Sunderland remain rock bottom with nine points. Oddly, they haven’t resembled hopeless relegation fodder recently, despite the fact they’ve only managed two points from the last five league matches since beating Manchester City. Poor against Stoke, Sunderland should have beaten Villa away, and the Black Cats acquitted themselves reasonably well in patches despite losing to Chelsea, Spurs and drearily drawing with West Ham.
Eliminating Chelsea from the League Cup, meanwhile, can be a catalyst for improvement. But 12 goals scored and 30 conceded are dismal stats, and Poyet is talking tough. “You can't perform every now and then,” he growled recently. The habit of scoring own goals is also wearing poor Gus down. “Bad luck is once or twice, but five own goals in nine games – I’m not taking that.”
The Canaries may be 14th but have a similarly dreadful goal difference – they’ve bagged 15 and let in 29 this season – the third-worst in the league, and their form graph is like the scribblings of a madman: in the last five they’ve drawn with Swansea, beaten West Brom, been spanked by Liverpool, crawled past Palace and lost to Newcastle.
Hughton knows that most of all, his back-line need to cut out the generosity. “It’s about individuals, and individuals have to defend better,” he says. There are causes for optimism. Four goals in six games from Gary Hooper – including a brilliant volley against the Swans – have given the Canaries more peck up front, and Hughton’s XI aren’t shipping that many to bottom-half sides. Poyet, meanwhile, can be buoyed by his men’s increased fighting spirit recently. Time to stab some friends in the back.
On Wearside, Carlos Cuellar still has a hurt hip, but Jack Colback and Keiren Westwood should be fit again. Robert Snodgrass (knee), Anthony Pilkington (hamstring), Alex Tettey (ankle) and Elliott Bennett (knee) huddle for warmth glumly in an East Anglian treatment room, while Mark Bunn and Ricky van Wolfswinkel skip happily free from medical custody.
Player to watch: Ki Sung-Yeung (Sunderland)
You know you’re doing something right when Jose Mourinho earmarks your containment as the key to winning a match, and the lofty South Korean has been outstanding as a deep-lying but creative midfielder for the Black Cats this season. “Ki is a crucial player for them in the build-up,” said Jose after their 4-3 win on Wearside. “We made sure he did not play a lot.” Poyet thinks he’s “special”, and getting better all the time – a point amply illustrated when his last-minute winner eliminated a grumpy Jose from the League Cup.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- S'land 1-1 Norwich (Prem, Mar 13)
- Norwich 2-1 S'land (Prem, Dec 12)
- S'land 3-0 Norwich (Prem, Feb 12)
- Norwich 2-1 S'land (Prem, Sep 11)
- Norwich 1-4 S'land (LC, Aug 09)
The duo have met twice before in their former guises as bosses of Brighton & Hove Albion (Gus) and Birmingham City (Chris) – with a 1-1 draw (in October 2011) and a 0-0 stalemate (in April 2012) resulting. Poyet is determined to get all his sides playing decent passing football, while Hughton will probably adapt a more pragmatic approach away from home. Expect it to be tight.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- There have been fewer than 3 goals in 7 of Sunderland’s last 11 home matches against middle-third clubs.
- The Black Cats have lost just once in their last 15 home matches to middle-third clubs, winning 6 and drawing 8.
- Norwich have conceded more goals on the road than any other club in the league this season (21).
- Craig Gardner scored in both Premier League meetings with Norwich City last season.
- None of the last 11 league meetings between Norwich and Sunderland have ended as an away win (9 home wins, 2 draws).
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A 1-0 home win, a 22-man brawl, widespread rioting and the abolition of the Friendship Trophy.