Matchday: Hammers take on the Black Cats

In what has the feel of a contractual obligation encounter can West Ham finally put an end to the Black Cats multiple lives?

Sunderland West HamWe are all familiar with the cartoon character who has  run off the edge of a cliff, legs continuing to race furiously, but who is suspended in midair defying the laws of gravity until finally noticing their own predicament.   That is how I see Sunderland’s plight right now.  We all know what is going to happen but they have just not quite accepted the reality.  Very soon they will be hurtling at spend towards the Championship and, no doubt, once at the bottom a huge anvil will land on David Moyes head creating an enormous bump to appear on the top.  They have, of course, teetered on the brink for many seasons but this time there can be no cartoon braces snagged on a tree trunk to catapult them  back to safety as they did under the guidance of old friends Di Canio and Allardyce previously.

Sunderland have now lost six and drawn one in a goal-less run of seven league matches.  In fact, they have scored just once in the eleven games since their 4-0 win at Crystal Palace in early February.   If only there was a fixture coming up against a perennially obliging visiting team, with an even worse defensive record than the bottom placed hosts, who were also missing their three best players through injury and their captain through suspension!

It’s a big game for us, Sunderland are desperate for a win and we are looking to win to secure or get closer to securing safety.  Every win gives you a boost, especially after five defeats in a row. The confidence is back but the belief was permanent and we never lost it.

– Slaven Bilic

Having put an end to their own losing run last week, West Ham still need a few extra points to extinguish any lingering concerns about joining Sunderland in the abyss.  As I don’t believe we will win any points in May this should be one of the games where we can add to our meagre points total.  Only once in 38 match Premier League history has a team with 36 points or more at this stage of the season been relegated (Birmingham in 2010/11) but nevertheless it is better to err on the side of caution here.  Expect a somewhat sterile game today, low on creativity that is won by whoever delivers the better set pieces.

Head to Head

For somewhere so far north our record at Sunderland is far from our worst.  We have won eleven, drawn nine and lost twenty of 40 encounters meetings in the far north-east.  The last away win was in March 2014 when goals from Andy Carroll and Mo Diame steered the Hammers to a 2-1 victory.  The most recent double over the Black Cats was in 2008/09 when Gainfranco Zola’s West Ham won at the Stadium of Light courtesy of a Valon Behrami strike.  The Hammers will be looking for their third league double of the season.

Team News

Michail Antonio joins Pedro Obiang and Angelo Ogbonna on the beach as he too is ruled out for the remainder of the season.  Winston Reid is still unavailable through injury and Mark Noble begins his suspension.  Sam Byram and Aaron Cresswell are reported to have recovered from knocks and should be available for selection.

As ever, the mystifying selections of Slaven Bilic are difficult to predict.  Does he bring in Havard Nordtveit as Noble’s replacement and play two defensively minded central midfielders to protect the leaky defence?  Does he bend to popular demand and bring in birthday boy Edmilson Fernandes (21 today) but play him in an unfamiliar defensive role?  Will he consider bringing back Cresswell but playing Arthur further forward as a proper left sided midfield player?  What role will potential match-winning benchwarmers Carroll and Diafra Sakho play?  Does Jonathan Calleri deserve another chance after apparently running around a lot last weekend (are we seriously considering giving this guy a contract)?

I’m definitely hurting and I’m certainly not enjoying the feeling of being down here. But part of football management is that you don’t always get it good. I’ve had some really good times and at the moment, it’s sore. I don’t enjoy losing every Saturday and going home to the family.

– David Moyes

No doubt there will also be more game time for the under-performing and uninspiring likes of Andre Ayew,  Sofiane Feghouli and Robert Snodgrass in there as well.   You really want to get excited about the build up to a game but sometimes it is very difficult.

Sunderland are missing Bryan Oviedo through injury and Sebastian Larsson through suspension but most Hammer eyes will be on pantomime villain Jermaine Defoe.   Defoe has scored six goals in fifteen Premier League games against West Ham but none of these have been in three attempts for Sunderland.  The footballing gods can be very devious individuals and who would bet against Defoe ending both his teams and his own personal drought today.

The Man in the Middle

For the fifth time this season we encounter Andre Marriner from the West Midlands.  Marriner was in charge of defeats away to Manchester City and Chelsea, an away win at Swansea and a drawn home game with Stoke.  In a grand total of 32 games this season he has presented 128 yellow cards and six red ones (although only one in the Premier League).