Southampton the visitors
Southampton are the visitors to Sunderland tomorrow with the relative league position of the two sides belying their recent form.
Saints are ensconced in mid-table, sitting 13th in the Premier League but have lost six of their last seven matches. Sunderland are still stuck to the foot of the table but are fresh from successive clean sheets and four points accumulated in the last ten days.
Claude Puel's men could be forgiven for having one eye cast on a fortnight's time as the prospect of the EFL Cup final looms ever larger. For David Moyes, his charges know a decent result tomorrow may catapult them out of the bottom three.
Moyes faced the media this afternoon to preview tomorrow's 3pm kick-off. Here's five things he addressed and our take on his assessment of all things Sunderland right now.
1. Jack Rodwell is out; O'Shea and Januzaj available
Fridays have become a succession of dismal injury updates this season but the news today was not all bad. Jack Rodwell is ruled out of action for two to three weeks but John O'Shea and Adnan Januzaj should be available for selection against Southampton.
Moyes revealed Rodwell will need the upcoming fortnight break to recover from the niggle he picked up last weekend at Crystal Palace:
Jack Rodwell has got a slight hamstring injury, it's not as bad as we first feared but nevertheless it will keep him out for a few weeks we think.
The injury is Rodwell's latest hamstring problem. The 25-year-old missed eight games earlier in the season with the same issue.
The positive though, is that Moyes has a direct replacement in new signing Darron Gibson. The former-Everton man who was brought to Sunderland in the transfer window has a great chance of making his full home debut at the Stadium of Light.
2. No Jordan Pickford tomorrow though
Jordan Pickford returned to full training this week after suffering an injury on Boxing Day. The young England goalkeeper has missed six Premier League games through a knee injury caused by colliding with Papy Djilobodji at Old Trafford.
But Moyes indicated Pickford will not be between the sticks tomorrow suggesting the game will come too early in his recovery process:
Jordan's back but the medical team would really like Jordan to complete the time that the surgeon said for his recovery. He's training well....he's jumping around and he's kicking, but his time is probably after this weekend. Jordan won't be involved this weekend, but he's very close to playing.
With Vito Mannone having kept successive clean sheets in his last two matches, the Italian likely deserves to keep his spot in goal tomorrow. But, with Pickford breathing down his neck once Sunderland return to action later this month, the pressure is on the man in goal to maintain his form just to keep his place in the side.
3. A buoyant camp amidst a developing relegation mini-league
Last week's four-goal thrashing of Crystal Palace has meant for a renewed sense of optimism about Sunderland's survival hopes and Moyes suggested his players are upbeat after that performance:
We had a great result last week, the players showed exactly what they can do, a very good all-round team performance - scoring goals and perhaps more importantly keeping clean sheets.
Plenty of Sunderland outings this season have been characterised by individual and team errors, so Moyes indicated he has been pleased that the self-destructive aspect of his team's game has improved in the last two games with the manager concluding:
If we play every game at that level, we will give ourselves every chance of moving off the bottom of the league. If we don't, we'll find ourselves still there.
Moyes suggested several of his first team put in their best performances of the season last weekend against Palace, and he would be right. Consistency is the biggest issue with the Sunderland squad currently of course so tomorrow is a big test of character.
Last weekend's set of results reignited the Premier League relegation battle. With just two points separating the bottom six, and teams above that - including tomorrow's opponent's Southampton - beginning to look over their shoulders, the importance of this weekend's fixtures can not be underestimated.
Sunderland can exit the bottom three with a good result, but previous opportunities to leap up as high as seventeenth have not been capitalised by David Moyes' side this campaign:
We've been in this position once or twice before this season - and we've not done it. So we've got to make sure we do it this time.
4. A New 'Positive Mindset'
David Moyes talked of a new attitude and approach at the Stadium of Light as the season enters its final furlongs.
The Sunderland boss has been constantly criticised for his negative assessment of the state of things at the club. So his thoughts on approaching the relegation run-in with a fresh attitude was perhaps a nod to the positive impact of last weekend and endeavouring to keep that going into the upcoming fortnight's break:
We've got to be really positive, we've probably got to have a different mindset to that we've had in the past. We need to win, we do.
5. A bolstered squad with fresh options
Whilst the transfer window which closed but ten days ago brought with it a few disappointments, the net result wasn't a bad one at Sunderland. Perhaps the most significant business was that which was not done, rather than the new faces who could have been brought in.
The retention of Lamine Kone, Jermain Defoe, and of course Jordan Pickford, were all positive aspects of the January window; and the continuation in the squad of the likes of Fabio Borini and Wahbi Khazri may yet bear fruit as the season enter its end game.
The addition of Darron Gibson and Bryan Ovideo is already looking a shrewd one. Gibson for his likelihood of being available to replace the injured Rodwell, and Oviedo due to his instant impact in replacing Patrick van Aanholt so effectively last weekend.
David Moyes described his satisfaction with the increase in squad options he now has amongst fit senior players. For one thing, the likes of Donald Love and George Honeyman have now returned to the ones-for-the-future pile rather than being emergency starters as they were during December and January:
I was able to sit two people in the stands last weekend who would normally have been regulars. I've not had to use so many young players in training and involve them all the time....the injuries we've had this season, we couldn't make it up.
With what we've got, we're a lot stronger on the bench and hopefully it will go onto the prove that come the end of the season.