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Defoe the key for Sunderland ahead of another Premier League survival bid

Simon Sinclair | February 11, 2016

Sunderland will continue in their scrap for Premier League survival against Manchester United at the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

Sam Allardyce’s men came from two goals down to earn a vital point in their clash with Liverpool last week at Anfield thanks to late goals from Adam Johnson and Jermain Defoe.

The Black Cats remain four points adrift of safety in the top flight, leaving them with an uphill task to remain in the division for a 10th consecutive season, and are odds-on at 1/5 with Coral to be relegated.

Sunderland’s problems worsened on Wednesday after Johnson’s high profile legal issues, putting his footballing future in jeopardy.

Allardyce’s men will certainly be without his services for the clash against the Red Devils, who the Black Cats have not beaten at home in the league since the 1996/97 season. As a result of their poor record against United, Sunderland are 15/4 to end their hoodoo against Louis van Gaal’s men.

Defoe continues to shine

Liverpool v Sunderland - Barclays Premier League - Anfield

Even at the age of 33, Defoe has been Sunderland’s key player this season. The former England international has scored 10 times now in the Premier League, including the equaliser at Anfield last week.

Defoe’s goals have been vital in keeping the Black Cats in the mix for survival, netting crucial strikes against Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Swansea City.

Without the forward, Sunderland could have been well adrift at the foot of the table, staring relegation in the face, and he will almost certainly need to keep firing to keep the Black Cats in the Premier League next season.

Defoe is backed at 2/1 to score anytime during the next contest at the Stadium of Light, and a 7/1 shout for the first strike could be an enticing prospect.

Struggles at the back

Sunderland v AFC Bournemouth - Barclays Premier League - Stadium of Light

No team has conceded more in the Premier League than Sunderland this season. Allardyce’s men have shipped 49 goals in their 25 matches this season, almost two a game.

The Black Cats have kept just three clean sheets in the entirety of the campaign, the last of which came in their 2-0 victory over Stoke City in November.

As a result, United could well be in business in front of goal at the Stadium of Light, despite the possibility of Sunderland being boosted by the return to fitness of Younes Kaboul.

The arrival of Lamine Kone may prove to be an astute bit of business as he impressed in his first two matches for the club, but the main area of concern for Allardyce comes at the full back positions.

Patrick van Aanholt has been an asset going forward in recent weeks, notching three goals since the turn of the year. However, the Dutchman has also been seen as a liability at the back after being exposed by Roberto Firmino in their draw at Liverpool.

Billy Jones struggled even more than Van Aanholt at Anfield as he made a costly error leading to the Reds’ second strike before he was removed from the pitch and replaced by DeAndre Yedlin.

Allardyce’s concern over the position has led the club to bring former Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue in on trial. The Black Cats know they have to keep teams out to have any chance of remaining in the division, starting against the Red Devils.

Despite United’s struggles in front of the net this season a goalless affair is unlikely on Wearside, as there has been at least one strike in matches involving Sunderland this term, so favour a chance on a 1-1 draw at 11/2 rather than 15/2 with the scoreline blank.

New hope

Sunderland v Manchester City - Barclays Premier League - The Stadium of Light

Sunderland spent £9m to acquire Wahbi Khazri from Bordeaux and the Tunisian made an instant impact in his first start for the Black Cats by providing both of their goals against Liverpool.

The 25-year-old could hold the key for the club’s survival hopes should he hit the ground running to life in the Premier League. Khazri has been backed at 7/1 to open his scoring account for the Black Cats against Van Gaal’s side.

Experience

Sunderland’s main advantage over their relegation rivals is their experience at beating the drop. For the past three seasons the Black Cats have looked nailed on to drop into the Championship, but have miraculously beaten the odds to remain in the division.

Allardyce is the club’s fifth manager in three years and will look to be the fourth man to steer the Wearsiders to safety following in the footsteps of Paolo Di Canio, Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat.

The 61-year-old has never been relegated from the Premier League during his managerial career, although his credentials are facing their toughest test with time running out to save the Black Cats.

Players such as John O’Shea, Wes Brown and Lee Cattermole are battle-hard veterans of past relegation fights, and still remain an essential part of Sunderland’s spine. The trio will need to raise the level of their games once again to lift their team clear of danger.

The Black Cats are backed at 3/1 to avoid the drop for the fourth year on the bounce, but will need to turn the corner sooner rather than later especially at the Stadium of Light, where they have recorded just three wins this season.

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