The FourFourTwo Preview: Sunderland vs Hull
Steve Bruce's once-doomed old boys now look to overtake his ailing Tigers.
How times flies. With eight games of the campaign down and one measly point on the board, fans chortled whether the shambles that was Sunderland could threaten Derby's lowest ever Premier League points tally of 11.
- Newcastle 0-3 S'land (Prem)
- S'land 1-0 Stoke (Prem)
- S'land 1–0 Kidderminster (FAC)
- Man Utd 2–1p S'land (LC)
- S'land 2–2 So'ton (Prem)
- Hull 1-1 Spurs (Prem)
- Palace 1–0 Hull (Prem)
- Southend 0–2 Hull (FAC)
- Norwich 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- Hull 0–2 Chelsea (Prem)
But who’s laughing now, eh? Despite a rocky start to Gus Poyet’s stewardship, beaten 4-0 at Swansea and 1-0 at, Saturday’s opponents, Hull, the Uruguayan has slowly but surely turned the Wearsiders’ fortunes around, using the feelgood factor of a League Cup run to propel them into mid-table.
The Black Cats have only lost two of 12 matches since Ki Sung-Yueng’s last-gasp strike sunk Chelsea in the League Cup, and one of them wasn’t ‘really’ a defeat at all as they beat Manchester United on penalties, just.
With a rejuvenated Adam Johnson firing on all cylinders, Sunderland are currently unbeaten in four league outings after romping to away wins at Fulham and Newcastle; a third straight Tyne-Wear derby success for the first time in 90 years.
Life is good again, but the Black Cats aren’t resting on their laurels; new signing Liam Bridcutt labelling EVERY game as “must win”, with the Hull clash "just as big as Newcastle.”
Sunderland’s last home game, a 1-0 win over Stoke, was only their third league victory at the Stadium of Light all season, and they will fancy their chances of making it four as former boss Bruce returns with his Hull side hurtling south after a run of four defeats in five outings.
City have been safely stowed in mid-table for much of 2013/14 thanks to their home form, losing just one of their opening 8 league games at the KC Stadium. Yet only Stoke can boast a more rotten away record than the Tigers, who are now among a quartet of clubs, including Sunderland, on 24 points, two above the dreaded dotted line.
What Hull have in their favour, though, is firepower.
Owner Assem Allam backed Bruce in January by funding the arrivals of strike duo Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic for an estimated £14 million. The pair combined for City’s goal in their 1-1 draw against Tottenham last weekend to end their run of four league losses, and Bruce expects them to haul the Tigers clear of danger.
“I am convinced they will give us the platform which we will need to make sure we stay in this division,” Bruce enthused. "Although the partnership is only in its early days, I think they will certainly be a threat for anyone."
Lee Cattermole has missed Sunderland’s last two outings but is available again, while Steven Fletcher continues to be plagued by Achilles woe that is concerning Poyet. Keeper Keiren Westwood and defender Carlos Cuellar remain on the sidelines. New £4 million signing Nacho Scocco awaits his first taste of Premier League football.
Hull aren’t expecting James Chester (hamstring) or Joe Dudgeon (knee) back anytime soon. Sone Aluko, out since mid-October with an Achilles problem, is ready to return and will be part of the Tigers' squad.
Player to watch: Adam Johnson (Sunderland)
The resurgence of the former Manchester City reject has resulted in England manager Roy Hodgson scheduling in a trip to watch him this weekend, with a view to naming him in his squad to face Denmark next month. Johnson, who has not played for his country since August 2012 in a post-European Championship friendly against Italy, has been the spearhead of Sunderland’s spring up the table, scoring 7 goals in his last 7 games.
Poyet believes taking the pressure off the 26-year-old, who cost the Black Cats £10 million in 2012, has helped him flourish, saying: “For some reason at this football club we were giving him the responsibility of doing everything, thinking you come from Man City so give him the ball let him take on 10 players and score every game, but it doesn't work like that. We have to play in a way to help Adam and he is doing it every week, it is a bit of responsibility for Adam and a bit of the team."
On target in each of Sunderland’s last 4 league games, the wide-man fired in more efforts than any other Black Cat in their derby triumph at St James’ Park and provided a regular outlet on the right touch-line as the visitors counter-attacked to great affect. It was a similar story in the Wearsiders’ last home game against Stoke, with Johnson successful with 4 of his 7 take-ons driving down the right flank. Stopping his raids forward will be key to Hull having any chance of avoiding another away defeat, and Bruce may be tempted to stick with the 4-4-2 formation seen against Spurs last time out; Maynor Figueroa and Robbie Brady protecting the left side.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Hull 1-0 S'land (Prem, Nov 13)
- Hull 0-1 S'land (Prem, Apr 10)
- S'land 4-1 Hull (Prem, Sep 09)
- S'land 1-0 Hull (Prem, Apr 09)
- Hull 1-4 S'land (Prem, Dec 08)
The pair’s previous meeting in early November was Poyet’s third game in charge of the Black Cats and it didn’t go well; Cuellar putting through his own net and both Cattermole and Andrea Dossena seeing red in the space of five second-half minutes. Keeping all 11 men on the pitch will aid the Black Cats immensely in their bid for a fourth successive home win over Hull. They trounced the Tigers 4-1 in the last north-east encounter in September 2009. City, meanwhile, have won just one of their last 13 Wearside visits; a 1-0 success in April 1990.
Bruce returns to the Stadium of Light for the first time since his 2011 sacking and aimed a slight dig in the direction of his former employers, whose deadline-day dilly-dallying over Danny Graham’s loan to Middlesbrough prevented Hull from swooping for Tom Ince. "Unless something happened earlier, we might have been in the ball park,” said Bruce. "We always knew it was a loan deal. Crystal Palace got through it by buying [Jason] Puncheon. We didn't really have any possibility. Danny Graham didn't go through until 10.55pm.” When asked if he suspected any mischief, Bruce added: "I'm sure there was."
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- Sunderland have drawn 8 of their 15 home games against bottom-half teams since the start of last season.
- Sunderland have won 8/12 home games against promoted teams since 2009/10 with all 8 wins coming after leading at half-time.
- 10 of Sunderland’s 12 home games against bottom-half finishers last season and current bottom-half sides this term have had fewer than 3 goals.
- Hull have lost 9/12 away matches this season with 7 defeats to nil.
- 18 of Hull’s 24 games this season have had fewer than 3 goals – the joint-most in the league.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Hull’s front duo continue to click to help them pick up a rare point on the road. 1-1.