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The Big Match Preview: Sunderland vs Hull City; Youngster set to be handed first league start

It’s a big game - one billed as a ‘must win’ by Chris Coleman, and youngster Ethan Robson is set to gain a first league start in Sunderland’s midfield.

Bury v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

It’s the Black Cats versus the Tigers later today in a sequence of two six-pointers which could go some way to deciding whether Sunderland play in League One next season.

Hull are three points and four places in the table better off than us. Victory at the Stadium of Light this afternoon could prove huge with a trip to second-bottom Birmingham next up in ten days time.

Sunderland beat Hull City twice last season as both clubs succumbed to the drop from the Premier League, but the sides played out a frustrating draw in September as the wheels began to fall off Simon Grayson and Leonid Slutsky’s ill-fated spells in charge of both teams.

Getting goals will be Chris Coleman’s biggest challenge with teenager Josh Maja the only bona fide striker at the club at present. Sunderland have only been on the score sheet three times in the last eight games and haven’t found the back of the next since beating Nottingham Forest at the end of December.

Sunderland Training Session
Josh Maja limbering up this week
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The potential for goals is a huge worry in a game billed by the boss himself as a ‘must-win’. The Black Cats have only managed three shots on target in their last four league games as the chance-creation in the squad has all but dried up.

Coleman will be looking for a reaction from his players after last Saturday’s humiliation at the hands of Cardiff City although yet another week at the perma-crisis club has been dominated by off-field headlines.

The mystery surrounding Jack Rodwell has perhaps deepened with no end to the saga yet in sight. The £10m man declared himself fit in a Daily Mail interview midweek despite playing just 100 minutes of league football this season and not featuring in a match day squad since mid-November.

Sunderland v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship
Jack Rodwell
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Coleman was quick to declare that the midfielder has indicated he has no interest in playing for Sunderland again even though the Black Cats boss continues to have selection issues in the middle of the park.

Sunderland will be missing Didier Ndong who begins his three-game suspension and Marc Wilson has again succumbed to injury after playing 45 minutes in a holding midfield role last weekend. Paddy McNair is still out and the game will likely come too early for the returning Jonny Williams.

The Black Cats inability to keep hold of the ball against Cardiff means youngster Ethan Robson is in line for a start after being roughly the only Sunderland player to impress in the Cup tie against Middlesbrough a fortnight ago.

Middlesbrough v Sunderland - The Emirates FA Cup Third Round
Ethan Robson at Middlesbrough
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Adam Matthews could return to the starting eleven after suffering with a calf problem and Aiden McGeady should be fit after missing last week’s trip to Wales. The Republic of Ireland winger could yet prove key in bolstering the Black Cats attack and a return to form for the 31-year-old is long overdue as his early season exploits now seem a distant memory.

Both this afternoon’s sides are in a miserable run of form as life in the second-tier proves equally as depressing as last season in the Premier League. Hull haven’t won in their last six, with just one goal scored, and Sunderland have endured a thoroughly miserable January so far.

Sunderland are priced at odds as high as 2/1 with some bookmakers for this afternoon’s fixture such is the general lack of confidence in the side bottom of the Championship. Something has to give and quite frankly if we can’t win this one, then we deserve to go down. Predicted result: 2-0 to the Lads.