The story so far...
Promotion favourites Aston Villa started the season with just one league win in their first seven league games, prompting a large section of the Villa faithful to turn on manager Steve Bruce.
However, seven wins in their last nine in the Championship have left the Villans in a pretty healthy playoff position, and the pressure has eased on our former boss.
Impressive home victories this season have included a 4-2 win against Norwich and a pair of 2-1 wins over Fulham and Nottingham Forest - though Bruce’s side did lose last time they were at Villa Park, 2-1 against fellow promotion hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday.
Villa have won four, drawn three and lost just one home game so far this season, and a paltry goal return of eleven in eight home games is poor - to give context, we have scored nine at the Stadium of Light and we are bottom of the division!
Last time out...
Steve Bruce took his team down to QPR at the weekend looking to get back to winning ways after losing prior to the international break.
Villa started poorly and Jamie Mackie made Sam Johnstone pay for an error by poking the ball home to give the hosts the lead on 18 minutes.
The home side looked to be heading in to the break with the advantage, but Jack Robinson handled the ball in added time to give Villa a penalty - former Boro winger Albert Adomah converted the spot kick to give the away side all of the momentum heading into the second half.
Sure enough, Villa were ahead by 58 minutes when Adomah bagged his second of the game.
The R’s did edge possession, but Villa showed their quality throughout the ninety minutes and out-shot their opponents 26-14 - not surprising when you can rely on players like Robert Snodgrass, Albert Adomah, Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury to create chances from midfield.
Fortunately for Sunderland, Villa will be without Jonathan Kodjia and Scott Hogan for Tuesday night’s game. However, the attacking threat that the Villans pose will not be lacking, particularly when you acknowledge the quality within their roster of midfielders.
Snodgrass has only scored two goals in 10 outings this season, but you can bet your bottom dollar that he will punish us on Tuesday for not signing him in the summer. The former Leeds United attacking midfielder is a player I have always rated, and I am sure he will have a say in the outcome of the game.
Whether you like him or not, Steve Bruce did come close - perhaps closer than most in recent times - to turning Sunderland into aside capable of finishing regularly in the top half of the Premier League, though his time on Wearside was marred largely due to some baffling transfer decisions that I won’t dare to re-visit for the sake of my health.
The now-Villa gaffer is in his ninth managerial role and oddly enough he enjoyed his best success in management at the rivals of his current team.
Aside from his time at Birmingham, the Corbridge-born manager had spells at Hull City, Wigan Athletic (twice), Sheffield United, Huddersfield Town and Crystal Palace.
Steve Bruce has a career win percentage of 38.1%, though his worst spell was at Sunderland where he enjoyed a lowly 29.6%. Poor.
Scott Hogan, Jonathan Kojda, John Terry, Andre Green and Gabby Agbonlahor will definitely miss tonight’s game, whilst Robert Snodgrass and Josh Onomah are slight doubts despite coming through to play against QPR at the weekend.
Stephen Martin takes charge of his third Sunderland game of the season - and he is yet to see us lose.
The Stoke-born ref took charge of our early season draw at Sheffield Wednesday and our home draw with QPR just a few weeks ago.
Tonight will be Martin’s first Villa league game this season, though he did referee their Carabao Cup defeat at home to Middlesbrough, where he sent off central defender Tommy Elphick.
Looking at the way Villa play and the way that we play, it is hard to imagine our opponents not creating bundles of chances in tonight’s game.
That said, it must be noted that they are playing without their leading forwards, so maybe if we are lucky, Villa will be wasteful in front of goal.
Added to that, Sunderland have a new manager as Chris Coleman takes charge of his first game - and you know what that (sometimes?!) means, so maybe we should throw all of the statistical analysis out the window for this one and let the football gods dictate which way our fate takes us this evening.
Our new gaffer has said he doesn’t have a magic bag full of tricks, so maybe we should expect more bad defending, more bad goalkeeping and a lack of midfield presence? We certainly need more than two days on the training field to make our lot into a decent football team.