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Sunderland v Crystal Palace: The Big Match Preview

Is tonight's game with Crystal Palace Sunderland's most important remaining fixture? It certainly feels that way. Win, and safety seems likely. Lose, and we throw away yet another opportunity to get out of the bottom three.

Gary M. Prior/Getty Images

Kick Off: Tuesday 1st March 2016, 7.45pm

Venue: Stadium of Light, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear

Last Season: SAFC 1-4 Palace: Murray (48), Bolasie (51, 53 , 62), Wickham (90)

Odds: Home: 28/17 Away: 2/1 Draw: 40/17

Although Sunderland didn't particularly deserve to lose against West Ham at the weekend the fact of the matter is that we did. To make matters worse, time is rapidly running out and even though we have a number of games still to play against sides in the bottom half, most of them are away from home.

That makes today's game with Alan Pardew's Crystal Palace all the more important. We win tonight in convincing fashion and then all of a sudden things look much clearer for Sam Allardyce - win tonight, and we are only four wins (according to Sam Allardyce's predictions) from safety.

Lose and, well... it's tough. We'd likely be expected to win around half of our remaining games, and with Newcastle left to play this month we'd be best served going into that game outside of the bottom three. In fact, it would be great in terms of momentum and pressure if we could end today outside the bottom three, with Newcastle and Swansea facing difficult opponents tomorrow night.

Luckily, we appear to be playing with a confidence and swagger that was perhaps missing in the opening three months of the season. Sam Allardyce did a fantastic job in restructuring his squad in January and you have to feel that our form - and the quality we have in our squad - is indicative of a side you'd more likely place around the middle of the table.

Palace haven't won any of their last ten games. Forget Connor Wickham scoring twice at the weekend; forget Yannick Bolasie returning to the side following injury - Palace are not very good, and if we are going to stay up we must win tonight. There can be absolutely no excuses.

Match Appointments

Referee Anthony Taylor

Assistants S Bennett & D Bryan

Fourth Official C Pawson

Team News

Sunderland

Sam Allardyce has no fresh injury worries ahead of tonight's game, with Duncan Watmore (ankle) and Jeremain Lens (hernia) remaining sidelined.

Regardless, Sam may well make changes to the side that started on Saturday against West Ham. Lee Cattermole isn't particularly enjoying his best spell of form and in the last two games he's been replaced late on by Jack Rodwell, who has done more than enough to earn a chance of starting against Alan Pardew's side.

Sam may also look to recall Fabio Borini, who could come in out wide in place of Dame N'Doye.

Crystal Palace

One player that has missed almost all of Crystal Palace's recent miserable run of form is influencial winger Yannick Bolasie, and he made his return to the side at half time on Saturday evening in their game against West Brom. Bolasie impressed, and is almost certainly going to start the game, likely in place of experienced Togo forward Emmanuel Adebayor.

Another player likely to return to the matchday squad is Bakary Sako, though he's only expected to make the bench. Jason Puncheon and James McArthur remain long term absentees.

Form

Sunderland - LDLDWL

27 Feb 2016 - West Ham United 1-0 Sunderland

13 Feb 2016 - Sunderland 2-1 Manchester United

06 Feb 2016 - Liverpool 2-2 Sunderland

02 Feb 2016 - Sunderland 0-1 Manchester City

23 Jan 2016 - Sunderland 1-1 AFC Bournemouth

16 Jan 2016 - Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 Sunderland

Crystal Palace - LLLDLL

27 Feb 2016 - West Bromwich Albion 3-2 Crystal Palace

13 Feb 2016 - Crystal Palace 1-2 Watford

06 Feb 2016 - Swansea City 1-1 Crystal Palace

02 Feb 2016 - Crystal Palace 1-2 AFC Bournemouth

23 Jan 2016 - Crystal Palace 1-3 Tottenham Hotspur

16 Jan 2016 - Manchester City 4-0 Crystal Palace

Fan Focus

Rory Fallow spoke to Jay from 'The Eagles Beak', and he had this to say on which player Sunderland should fear most head of tonight's game:

Connor Wickham. No doubt about it. His two goals at the weekend will have done him the power of good ahead of a trip to his former club, particularly the second which was a great strike. Hopefully Yannick will start after a recent return from injury who will be returning to the scene of his hat-trick performance from last season so hopefully more of the same.

With both wingers starting the game, they will create plenty for Wickham who I hope will be the lone striker in this one to benefit from such ammunition.

Read more of our interview with The Eagles Beak here.

Manager Craic

Sam Allardyce on 'pussy-footing around':

I don’t think players realise just how important it [collecting points] is. Players tend to think that if the performance is good, that’s it," he said. "It’s more than frustrating.

If we don’t accept the severity of our situation how are we going to cope with it? We can’t keep pussyfooting around. The only way we’re going to get out of it is by accepting more responsibility. It’s a results business – as a player or a manager, you’re judged on results – and we have to make sure we get the results we need.

Last Season's Corresponding Fixture

Head To Head

23 Nov 2015 - Crystal Palace 0-1 Sunderland

11 Apr 2015 - Sunderland 1-4 Crystal Palace

03 Nov 2014 - Crystal Palace 1-3 Sunderland

15 Mar 2014 - Sunderland 0-0 Crystal Palace

31 Aug 2013 - Crystal Palace 3-1 Sunderland

30 Jan 2007 - Sunderland 0-0 Crystal Palace

22 Dec 2006 - Crystal Palace 1-0 Sunderland

Prediction

It's really, really, really difficult to call. I mean, we really should be confident of winning this game, but Palace are the type of team you just know we'll trip up against - despite their pace out wide, they're massively out of form. Who better to play a club out of poor form than Sunderland?

The way Palace turned us over at the Stadium of Light last season slightly concerns me. Though our squad has changed a fair bit since, theirs hasn't, and you have to feel they'll be coming here to set up in a way that seemingly can decimate us, regardless of who the opposition is - if you have pace out wide, you generally don't struggle to score against us or find space in behind.

We cannot worry too much about what Palace might do to us, though.

This needs to be more about 'what have we got that can scare them?'

Palace have a very disorganised defence and we don't particularly struggle with scoring goals. Their goalkeeper does little to instill confidence, whilst in the centre of the park they're over-reliant on Yohan Cabaye to control games, something which recently has seen them lose far too many games.

My heart is say we'll win this game and that Palace will continue their rotten run of form, but my head says we'll be playing a far more balanced side and they'll be coming for three points. I honestly cannot call it.