West Ham Utd v Sunderland

After a break for international stuff we next entertain Sunderland in one of those Saturday 3pm kick-offs that we all know and love .The Mackems venture on the long journey south a few places and a mere two points above the trapdoor of doom.

It's probably fair to say that consistency has not been the so-called Black Cats' strong point over the course of a season in which, as we ourselves have proved, you only needed to have gone on one relatively stable run to get yourself out of potential trouble. Sunderland's problem has been that, for every half-decent result, there has been at least one setback. Still if you haven't had a decent uninterrupted run for a while the end of the season is probably the time to start on one.

They've lost their last two matches in the league and haven't won for five, their last win coming back in February when they saw off Stoke in a 2-0 win at home. Their last match before the break, and doesn't that seem a long while ago, was the 1-0 defeat to Man City at Eastlands. The match was pretty forgettable by all accounts save for a couple of incidents, one of which, inevitably these days, centred upon a refereeing decision. Former Hammer George McCartney saw the red one in Steve Tanner's card collection for being the nearest player on hand when a sniper appeared to pick off Shaun Wright-Phillips just before Madonna put in her bid. To be fair to the ref he saw nothing wrong with the challenge from his viewpoint, the card only being issued on the say so of the brilliantly-named lino, a Mr Mo Matador. The red card was later rescinded following Sunderland's appeal on the not unreasonable grounds that a) contact was minimal and b) it certainly didn't deny a goalscoring opportunity. Robinho's later hilarious missed penalty spared the visitors from further punishment.

Linda's reprieve is likely to see him start at the Boleyn for the first time since he in no way submitted a written transfer request/ handed in a transfer request in triplicate (delete according to which version you believe) and he is likely to line-up in the back four alongside fellow Boleyn alumnus Anton Ferdinand who will have some sort of point to prove having had a bit of a 'mare in the reverse fixture earlier this season. The rumour that the less than Einstein-like Ferdinand moved to Wearside to be nearer to his unwell granny is surely untrue (though the possibility that he misheard Stadium Of Light as "Isle Of Wight" cannot be discounted). Other old boys currently plying their trade in red and white stripes include the on-loan Calum Davenport, who made his debut against Man City coming on to shore up the back four after Linda's dismissal. Linda's lack of a suspension will probably see Davenport drop to the bench.

Up at Eastlands another old boy (albeit from the Academy) Kieran Richardson was missing through suspension having picked up 10 yellows over the season. He can be expected to return to the midfield which started the City match five strong. Kenwyne Jones acted as the lone striker in that match, though comments this week from boss Sbragia about the goalscoring prowess of Djibril Cisse suggest that they might revert to two up top on Saturday as they go for the points that will give them a bit of much-needed breathing space. Cisse recently became another in an increasing list of footballers to have got into trouble in a lap-dancing club, though why anyone would visit such a venue in Newcastle when you see women wearing less on the street up there is a bit of a mystery to me. Other attacking options includes David Healey, who in the past has shown a Gerrard-like tendency to go down in search of penalties. However, yet another ex-Hammer, David "Angry Ant" Connolly will be missing with a long term groin injury. Another notable name on the bench a couple of weeks ago was Dwight Yorke, who has played for both Trinidad AND Tobago in the World Cup when most players these days have to make do with one country.

Sunderland will come to the Boleyn having marked this one down as one they must get something out of. With difficult games at title-chasing Man Utd, and fellow scrappers Hull and West Brom coming up it's not inconceivable that they could end up at the end of April in serious trouble so points from the Boleyn would give them a bit of a cushion ahead of the six pointers to come.

As for us, yet again the international break has been unkind to us. Cole's absence due to yet more refereeing stupidity showed up the paucity of riches in attack and it is that lack of depth that worries me most. Whilst DiMichele does at least show the occasional glimpse of adequacy when paired with Cole, alongside Diego "Schnorbitz" Tristan he looks less convincing. Tristan himself has failed to impress so far - his one goal this season being the somewhat fortunate deflection that gave us the three points against Stoke. So with these two being the likely starting pair it's difficult to see where the goals are going to come from.

More welcome will be the likely return of James Collins who managed a couple of runouts for the Taffs during the break. I expect him to return to keep an eye on Jones and he should line up alongside Upson, a move that will see Lucas Neill move back to right back and Tomkins and Spector drop to the racing car seats. This will be a little harsh on Tomkins, who has continued to improve as the season has progressed and who, I thought, had a particularly impressive 90 minutes up at Blackburn. However, with Jones a particular threat in the corresponding match last season, I'd plump for Ginge's experience this time round. Savio ought to be available as well though I suspect he'll be more likely to start on the car seats too where the nearly-but-not-quite-ready-for-a-start Dyer will continue his progress towards a start.

Whilst I can see the defence coping with what the visitors have to offer up front, up the other end Cole will be missed not only for his goalscoring threat but also for his hold-up play and all-round awkwardness, something that neither Tristan nor DiMichele really possess. We're therefore going to have to lean heavily on the midfield for a goal threat. It's the lack of goals up front that leads me into a mildly pessimistic outlook for this one. If we manage an early goal from somewhere we might be able prey on their lack of recent confidence but I think a draw is on the cards. Superstition prevents me from going for a 0-0 so I'll say 1-1 this time around.

Enjoy the game!

Last Season: Won 3-1. A few nervy moments after Jones had levelled Cole's opener. Gordon's unlucky own goal and a late Bellamy strike gave the score a slightly flattering look.

Danger man: Kenwyne Jones. Although Collins nullified his threat in the 1-0 win on Wearside he is still capable on his day of giving defenders nightmares.

Look out for: Djibril Cisse. He might just fancy a visit to the Greengate which I believe proides the sort of entertainment he appears to enjoy.

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