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Preview: Hoping For Majesty At The Madjeski

A little later than usual - down to my sheer ineptitude - it's time to preview today's trip to Reading. A win would see Sunderland soaring comfortably away from any relegation fears, while a defeat may have fans wondering whether January's strengthening was sufficient.

Stu Forster

Sunderland Team News

Martin O'Neill is likely to hand new signing Danny Graham an immediate debut, with the former Swansea City man offering Sunderland further attacking options alongside Steven Fletcher.

Carlos Cuellar and Danny Rose are fighting for fitness but it remains to be seen whether either will play a role, while it is also expected that this game will come too soon for captain Lee Cattermole, who is still attempting to shake off a knee problem. Wes Brown remains a long term layoff.

Reading Team News

The home side's main predicament comes up front, where Noel Hunt - who missed Wednesday's battling draw with Chelsea - is in a race against time to prove himself fit.

Royal's boss Brian McDermott must thus choose whether to replace Hunt with the in-form Adam Le Fondre, a man whom he has previously stated works best as a substitute, or stick with the Russian Pavel Pogrebnyak. Aside from that, the hosts have no other injury worries.

Predicted Lineups

Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, Bramble, O'Shea, Rose; Larsson, N'Diaye; Sessegnon, Graham, Johnson; Fletcher

Reading: Federici; Kelly, Harte, Pearce, Mariappa; Karacan, Leigertwood, McAnuff, Kebe, Guthrie, Pogrebnyak

Key Matchup: Alfred N'Diaye Vs Jem Karacan

Despite being absent from Wednesday's late late fightback, the return to fitness of Karacan has bolstered Reading's midfield options. Their toothless central display at the Stadium of Light, back in December, is unlikely to be mirrored today, and Karacan offers the hosts a driving influence from midfield, capable of both breaking up play and spraying the ball forward into attack with equal aptitude.

Hence, Alfred N'Diaye will do well to keep the Turkish under-21 international quiet. N'Diaye is a physically imposing presence and has shown already his abilities on the ball. Martin O'Neill and Sunderland will hope for another commanding midfield display from the Frenchman.

Recent League Form: WLWWD

Win: Reading 1-0 West Ham United (Pogrebnyak 5)

Loss: Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Reading (Dawson 9, Adebayor 51, Dempsey 79; Pogrebnyak 4)

Win: Reading 3-2 West Bromwich Albion (Kebe 82, Le Fondre (pen) 88, Pogrebnyak 90; Lukaku 19, 69)

Win: Newcastle United 1-2 Reading (Cabaye 35; Le Fondre 71, 77)

Draw: Reading 2-2 Chelsea (Le Fondre 87, 90+5; Mata 45+1, Lampard 66)

Last Time Around: Reading 2-1 Sunderland 22/12/07

It is over five years since Sunderland's last visit to the Madjeski Stadium. Then, three days before Christmas, the Wearsiders were on the cruel side of fortune - though Craig Gordon outrageously saved Stephen Hunt's late effort, officials erroneously judged the ball to have crossed the line, gifting the R's all three points in a tight tussle.

A scrappy first half had seen no breakthrough but, with twenty minutes remaining, defender Ivar Ingimarsson gave the hosts the lead. Reading continued to control the game, with Hunt hitting the post, but then a foul on Kenwyne Jones presented the visitors with a penalty, which was converted cooly by Michael Chopra. The game looked to be heading for a stalemate until Hunt's late, controversial winner.

The Ref: Lee Mason

Mason is something of a card addict - having shown no fewer than 72 yellow cards in 20 games thus far this season. He has also awarded 7 penalties, though only one in 14 Premier League games.

He last refereed Sunderland in the 1-2 defeat at Everton, having also overseen September's 1-1 draw at West Ham United. He has taken charge of Reading only once this term - officiating the early season 2-4 reverse at Chelsea.

What The Managers Said

Martin O'Neill:

It was a big, big result [against Chelsea] and they've got some amazing ones recently, pulling games out of the fire when they looked beaten.

Wednesday is a case in point. Reading never gave up and it will be a difficult task for us.

Hopefully we can return to the form we showed against Wigan, which wasn't so long ago.

I was disappointed [against Swansea] because we'd had a little bit of time off and I thought one thing we would be was fresh and energetic.

When the game didn't start brilliantly we lost a bit of confidence, which shouldn't really be happening now.

Brian McDermott:

The lads are fired up for every game and this one is no different.

We know it won't be easy for them to come here now with how we are playing and long may that continue.

When they and Martin started the season it was difficult, but look at them now.

They're comfortable in the league and once again Martin is doing a great job, which he always does. He's got good players in and signed Danny Graham and I'm sure he'll be involved.

As we always do we take it a game at a time and that makes this a big game.

Roker Report Predicts

Sunderland's inconsistency is an annoying trait, one that leaves predictions like these very much up in the air. On their day, the Black Cats can challenge any side in the league - problematically, no one can tell which side of their persona is likely to turn up on any given day.

That said, in recent weeks, O'Neill's side have made a habit of winning tricky ties against lower in the league opposition. With that in mind, a narrow victory today would not be unsurprising.

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