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Preview: Can The Black Cats Be Sinners At The Saints?

Christmas means one thing: football, and lots of it. Sunderland's festive fixtures begin with a trip down South, and a meeting against a somewhat in-form Southampton. Team news and much, much more follows.

Christopher Lee

Sunderland Team News

Martin O'Neill has confirmed that Steven Fletcher, Adam Johnson and Phil Bardsley have returned to training, whilstDanny Rose faces an anxious wait to prove his fitness ahead of the game.

There remains concern of Fletcher however, as the Scottish frontman now has ankle and back worries. Connor Wickham has impressed in recent weeks and could get the opportunity to start at St. Mary's Stadium.

Should it come too soon for Rose, then Jack Colback is likely to fill in at left-back once more.

Southampton Team News

Adam Lallana is the only confirmed absentee for the home side.

The Saints captain suffered a knee injury in the defeat to Reading, and Nigel Adkins has hinted that Gaston Ramirezcould fill the attacking midfield position just behind the striker.

There is better news on the goalkeeping front as Paulo Gazzaniga has overcome a shoulder injury. A decision will have to be made on that front, as former Sunderland man Kelvin Davis returned to action in the win over the Royals.

Predicted Lineups

Sunderland: Mignolet; Cuellar, Bramble, O'Shea, Colback; Johnson, Larsson, Gardner, McClean; Sessegnon, Fletcher

Southampton: Gazzaniga; Clyne, Fonte, Yoshida, Shaw; Davis, Cork, Schneiderlin; Puncheon, Ramirez; Lambert

Key Matchup: Adam Johnson Vs Luke Shaw

Scanning the two teams, this is the one area where Sunderland has a real advantage.

In recent weeks, Sunderland have focussed attacks down their right with the intention of getting Johnson on the ball as early, and as often, as possible. Against a talented, but very much novice full-back, Johnson can influence the game in our favour.

Recent Form: WWDLW

Win: Queens Park Rangers 1-3 Southampton 3 (Hoilett 49; Lambert 23, Puncheon 45+1, Ferdinand og 83)

Win: Southampton 2-0 Newcastle United (Lallana 34, Ramirez 60)

Draw: Southampton 1-1 Norwich City (Lambert 32; Snodgrass 45)

Loss: Liverpool 1-0 Southampton (Agger 43)

Win: Southampton 1-0 Reading (Puncheon 61)

Last Time Around: Southampton 2-1 Sunderland, 28/12/2002

A rather ominous sign, judging by the date. There have been happier memories since then - both Carlos Edwards and Grant Leadbitter scored screamers at St. Mary's Stadium in the Championship - but the last meeting in the top-flight was one of many defeats that season. But hey, at least Tore-Andre Flo scored.

The Ref: Howard Webb

England's top official has been in charge of just one Sunderland game this season - overseeing the laboured 1-0 win over Wigan in September.

Last season, Webb was appointed for five Sunderland games in all competitions, with just the one win coming Sunderland's way.

What The Managers Said

Martin O'Neill:

It's a tough programme for us with four games in relatively quick succession.

They're difficult games, but we'll take it one at a time. Southampton are in form at the moment and have some good confidence.

But our spirit is still strong too, despite the defeat at Manchester United, and we know this is a game we really have to compete in.

Nigel Adkins:

We've always highlighted the need and desire to win home games, especially against teams that are close to you in the division.

The next game is Sunderland which, akin to the Reading game, we'll be looking to win - as they will be. It's going to be a tough game.

Having watched Sunderland myself, they have good, talented football players.

The atmosphere here at St Mary's was outstanding in the last game, and I'm sure it'll be a full house again and all the supporters will get behind the players.

Roker Report Predicts

Much like the QPR game, we run into Southampton at arguably the most difficult time. The Saints have kept a clean sheet in two of their last three home games, with wins following the unblemished defensive records. The positive to draw, however, is that beside those two games, Southampton have conceded in every other home game since their promotion, and we fancy them to do so again. A solitary, away goal will be enough.

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