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Sunderland v Fulham: Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay

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After three losses, can Sunderland bounce back and rattle the Canaries’ cage?

The odds are stacked against the Lads against Norwich this weekend, but this season has been unpredictable and it’s a game we can certainly win.

A pause for thought: Mowbray has key decisions to make as we head to Norfolk
| Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

How quickly have Sunderland been written off?

After a three-game slump, the experts have us barely picking up a point between now and May, and while the pundits are quick to bemoan the speed at which the managerial merry-go-round spins, they’re equally hasty to turn a dip in form into a full-blown crisis.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

I’m not a happy clapper and if anything I generally tend to view the glass as half empty.

However, I was at Loftus Road last month to see a measured and slick performance from the Lads, and given the way we’ve played this season - much of it without Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms - we haven’t turned into a wretched team overnight.

We don’t know what’s going on in training but the squad have had a fortnight without a midweek fixture, so Tony Mowbray will have had time to work on things.

Yes, his tactics and game management have been questionable in recent weeks but this may well be dictated by the state of his squad.

In contrast, Norwich are in a rich vein of form and with David Wagner at the helm, and they seem to have turned their stuttering season around. They’ll doubtless view this game as an easy three points, and Wagner is predicting a vibrant atmosphere on Sunday.

Millwall v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship - The Den Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

However, there are few things in our favour as we head into the game.

Mowbray has been more than happy to come up with some head-scratching selections and tactics in recent weeks.

They might not have worked but even those of us who watch games week in and week out can’t say with any certainty who’ll be in the starting eleven, and in what positions, this weekend.

It makes the Canaries’ scouting efforts more difficult given that, come Sunday, the team, tactics and approach may bear no relation to that of the past three weeks.

In terms of selection, we all believe it’s time for some fresh legs.

Injuries have been awful in the past three months and we have to live with the loss of the ‘SAS’, as well as the fact that Joe Gelhardt isn’t a barnstorming physical number nine in the mould of our front pairing at the start of the season.

Mowbray has bemoaned our lack of ability to get behind defences but we do have some lightning-quick players. Okay, we can’t pump long balls up to a target man but we should be able to use that pace to get behind teams.

Maybe Sunday is the day we unleash Jewison Bennette down the middle and he can provide some more cutting edge.

We’ll certainly need it, because we can’t allow Norwich to pile on the pressure.

Sunderland v Reading - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images

Talking of pressure, this may be the first time that we see Pierre Ekwah start a game, because it’s clear that we need more steel in the engine room.

Ekwah describes himself as a box-to-box player but he also possesses the physical presence that we require in order to break up play and to compete in the middle of the park.

It’s also clear that certain players need a rest and I’m sure Luke O’Nien is desperate to get back into the side. Prior to the aberration against Stoke, our mentality was that of a team who simply didn’t quit, and we have to hope the last week hasn’t hit morale too hard.

We have the players and if they play as they’ve often done this season, we’re a match for anyone. We also have to remember that this is Sunderland and that it’s never straightforward or quite as expected!


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