Preview: Cats To Hammer Home Advantage?

Richard Heathcote

Back to league duty this week and a battle with West Ham on the horizon. Can it also be back to winning ways for Sunderland?

Sunderland Team News

Martin O'Neill is facing something of a defensive headache ahead of the visit of West Ham. Carlos Cuellar has added to a central defensive injury list that already included Wes Brown and John O'Shea, although the latter has an outside chance of making it.

Danny Rose limped off at Bolton last week, so Jack Colback will likely revert to left back, which could possibly mean a debut in midfield for new signing Alfred N'Diaye.

Further forward, Stephane Sessegnon will be hoping he can shrug off the ankle injury that kept him out of the trip to The Reebok, with Connor Wickham waiting in the wings should the Benin international not make it.

West Ham United Team News

Hammers boss Sam Allardyce will almost certainly hand a league debut to Joe Cole following the former Chelsea winger's impressive showing in the FA Cup last week.

Andy Carroll is nearing a return to first team action after injury, but is not expected to make it in time for the trip to the north east, so Carlton Cole is once again likely to lead the line.

Predicted Line-ups

Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, Bramble, Kilgallon, Colback; Johnson, N'Diaye, Larsson, McClean; Wickham, Fletcher

West Ham: Jaaskelainen; Demel, Reid, Tomkins, O'Brien; Noble, Collison, Nolan; J Cole, Vaz Te, C Cole

Key Match-up: Titus Bramble Vs Carlton Cole

Bramble really struggled at Bolton and looks short on both fitness and confidence, but he will be a key figure if Sunderland are to win this one.

He is the senior centre half and has the ability to stifle Carlton Cole at the apex of the West Ham attack, and if he can do that then he could well deny the Hammers a platform upon which they can establish a foothold in the game.

Recent Form: DLLWD

Draw: West Bromwich Albion 0-0 West Ham

Loss: West Ham 1-2 Everton (C Cole)

Loss: Reading 1-0 West Ham

Win: West Ham 2-1 Norwich City (Noble, O'Brian)

Draw: West Ham 2-2 Manchester United (Collins 2)

Last Time Around: Sunderland 1-0 West Ham 5/12/2010

It wasn't a pretty game for the Sky TV cameras but it was a special one for Jordan Henderson, who notched his first Sunderland goal with a smartly taken first half left foot finish.

The Ref: Neil Swarbrick

Definitely not one of the more established names but not one who immediately fills you with worry, either.

Interestingly, Swarbrick made his Premier League refereeing debut by taking charge of a goalless draw between Fulham and Sunderland at Craven Cottage in 2010.

What The Managers Said

Martin O'Neill

We've put some points on the board with two very important wins over Christmas.

But I don't take a group of games into consideration because it never works out how you think.

Because of our position and our squad size, I'm not so sure I can look that far ahead.

We go into the West Ham game tomorrow, and must give it everything.

We know what we're up against, and we'll have to fight every inch of the way with no respite in the game.

Sam Allardyce

Sunderland have hit better form recently and over the Christmas period that has given the team a lot more confidence.

The results haven't always come because they've not converted enough of the chances that they've created. I don't think they've had too many goal scorers apart from the magnificent start Fletcher has had.

They've paid the price for that in terms of results but performances, particularly at Sunderland, according to our reports, have always been very good.

So it will be a tough game as always away from home and we want to be playing as well as we did against Manchester United to achieve a result there. Anything less than that will make life difficult for us.

Roker Report Predicts

It is tough to see too many goals in this one considering both managers have a reputation for safety first. On paper it looks a tight one to call too, especially given the home side's injury list. That said, the optimist in me says 1-0 Sunderland win.

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