When I saw I was scheduled to do the preview this week, my first thought was 'all that mocking of Simon Walsh's atrocious betting tips has finally caught up with me'. Yes, here we are, one year since the site was born and I am still talking myself into trouble.
So now, finally, it is our turn to see if we can stand strong in the path of the Manchester City juggernaut. To give Steve Bruce his due, we weren't short of a gallant performance or two against the big boys during his tenure, but this will be Martin O'Neill's first chance to stand toe-to-toe with a genuine footballing power in front of the home Sunderland crowd, and it will be interesting to see how he approaches it.
During Martin O'Neill's first interview as Sunderland manager he proclaimed 'nothing is insurmountable'. This weekend would be a good time to prove that.
Sunderland Team News
Martin O'Neill is facing something of a defensive crisis with both Titus Bramble and Phil Bardsley struggling for fitness after being withdrawn on Boxing Day and Michael Turner not yet ready to return. Craig Gardner and Kieran Richardson filled in at full back against Everton but fears about City's attacking prowess and a possible desire to have Richardson further up field to provide a counter attacking threat may bring forgotten man Matt Kilgallon back into contention. Richardson himself hasn't trained all week due to illness, but you'd expect necessity to dictate that he 'mans up' for the cause and starts the game.
O'Neill has also favoured a pretty standard 4-4-2 so far this season but you have to wonder if the option of shoring up the midfield is one that has entered into his thinking. If so, tasking David Meyler with the mission of providing a physical challenge to Yaya Toure may seem a tempting one.
With no word on the progress of Connor Wickham's recovery, much will depend on Nicklas Bendtner to provide Sunderland with a platform from which they can attack the leaders.
Manchester City Team News
'It is impossible to play in two days with the same players' according to Roberto Mancini, and with City facing a tough game against Liverpool on Tuesday, some serious squad rotation looks likely. That is unlikely to help Sunderland, however, with players of the calibre of Adam Johnson, Edin Dzeko, and James Milner available to draft in, as well as full back pair Micah Richards and Aleksander Kolorov available again after injury.
At this point, it really is anyone's guess how City will line-up at the Stadium of Light, so we will not speculate further. I'll just have a shameless and obligatory stab in the dark at a possible line-up and be done with it. Speaking of which...
SAFC: Westwood, Gardner, O'Shea, Brown, Kilgallon; Larsson, Vaughan, Cattermole, Richardson, Sessegnon; Bendtner
Manchester City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kolorov, Kompany, Lescott; Y Toure, Milner, Nasri; Johnson, Balotelli, Dzeko
Manchester City provided the first ever competitive opposition at the Stadium of Light, and I am sure we all remember that one as if it was yesterday. But what about their last ever visit to Roker Park? Well, that was in November 1990, and finished in a 1-1 draw. Summer arrival Peter Davenport gave Sunderland a half time lead, only for David White to latch on to a sumptuous Niall Quinn flick-on to equalise in front of a healthy (for then) Roker Park gate of 23,137. Four days later, Peter Reid was appointed Manchester City manager as Howard Kendall headed back to Everton. Reid would lead City to a 5th place finish, one above bitter rivals United, and in doing so would famously relegate Sunderland at Maine Road in May.
But don't let me waffle on aimlessly... watch the goals yourself.
Get Rich Quick
Call me a foolish optimist if you want, but I can't help but feel the bookies are underestimating Sunderland a little. Big crowd, O'Neill effect, and Manchester City rotation make the 11/2 offered by many bookies on a Sunderland win look very tempting to me. A long shot, and a boring one, but ha'way the lads! Believe! Why not!
Song For Whoever
The reason for my above optimism is that in planning this preview the shuffle function blasted this little ditty out of my speakers. If you are going to achieve something like beating Manchester City at the moment then you need one hell of a psych-up tune, and they don't get much more 'f*ck yeah!!' than this.
I don't think that City will fail to score for two games in a row, so we'll have to fight hard and hang on in there at times, but I think we'll have a set piece ace card up our sleeve, defend like lions, and nick a 2-1 win. Hugely optimistic, but that's what football is all about!
Ha'way the lads!