In Profile: Sunderland
Nickname: The Black Cats/Mackems
Chairman: Niall Quinn
Manager: Steve Bruce
Ground: Stadium of Light
Best League Finish: 3rd in Division 1 (post World Wars)
Player of the Season: Philip Bardsley
Last Time Out: Norwich 1 Sunderland 4
Top Goal Scorer Last Season: Asamoah Gyan
One to Watch: Sebastian Larsson
Sunderland suffered a head-scratching season last season after a strong start for the Mackems, which contrasted against the performances and results of the second half of the season.
Their strong start to the season included a seven-match unbeaten run against top teams including Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. This began talk about Sunderland challenging for a potential European spot - talk that seemed crazy near the end of the season.
Sunderland`s unbeaten run was halted with a 5-1 defeat against Newcastle in the Tyne-Tees derby. They did however manage to bounce back from their humiliating defeat with another good run, and an impressive 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge against champions Chelsea. This good run of form was stopped down to matters off the field. Talisman Darren Bent handed in a transfer request in the January window, before moving days later to Aston Villa for up to £24 million.
The departure of Bent and no recognised goal scorer coming in to replace him saw Sunderland suffer a mid-season slump and fall down the league. Fans worried about the danger of relegation, but wins against Wigan, Bolton and West Ham helped preserve Sunderland`s Premier League status with a 10th place finish. This was Sunderland`s best finish in the top flight for 10 years.
Sunderland were the most active Premier League club in the transfer window this summer with 11 arrivals into the club.
These arrivals included Nicklas Bendtner from Arsenal on a loan deal, Birmingham duo Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner, Manchester Untied duo John O`Shea and Wes Brown, along with Wales International David Vaughan from Blackpool and ex-Ipswich man Connor Wickham.
Sunderland also saw established first team players in Steed Malbranque, Cristian Riveros, Boudewijn Zenden and Anton Ferdinand. The biggest losses from the squad however were Jordan Henderson who moved to Liverpool for £20 million after an impressive breakthrough season, and the controversial departure of Asamoah Gyan.
Gyan moved to the United Arabs after the British transfer window had closed, setting up a loan move himself without the club`s permission. With the transfer made after the transfer window closed, Steve Bruce was unable to recruit an extra striker to his already inexperienced front line.
Steve Bruce is a well known name around Norwich after a successful time at the club as player, a place where he won the League (Milk) Cup, ironically against Sunderland in a game which now goes by the name of the "Friendly Final". Bruce played 141 games for the Canaries and scored 14 goals, and on his debut for the club scored an own goal in the first minute against Liverpool.
His impressive time at Carrow Road gained Bruce a move to Manchester United where he built a solid defensive partnership with Gary Pallister. This partnership helped United to win trophies including the Premier League three times, the F.A Cup three times, and European Super Cup.
Bruce`s first successful managerial job came at Birmingham where he managed to get the team promoted to the Premier League through the play offs, again a game Norwich fans will remember after losing on penalties. Bruce managed to keep Birmingham in the Premier League for four seasons before a poor season being relegated. They managed to come straight back up, but Bruce left for Wigan halfway through the next season.
Bruce managed to help Wigan finish mid-table, a good achievement for team who were predicted to struggle. This brought around the opportunity for Bruce to move to Sunderland, local rivals of the team Bruce had constantly been linked with for many years in Newcastle.
Last week City finally managed to break their duck and get the first win of the season, a feat that was similar to their opponents tonight. City managed an impressive away win with a much changed team at Bolton; while Sunderland marched to a 4-0 win at home against Stoke after some disappointing performances in their last 3 matches.
The amount of changes Lambert made to the first XI at Bolton, six changes including Grant Holt, has been highlighted by the press this week as the talking point is if Lambert will stick to a winning team. It is highly likely that Steve Bruce will name an unchanged team to face City, and this should be looked at.
Sunderland played the same formation as City last week, a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 to some people, so the middle of the park will be packed. Lambert will have to decide whether to match Sunderland in the middle or to expose the wings and hope City aren`t outnumbered in the middle.
At the beginning of the season I thought Sunderland had gone some good business in the transfer market, but the amount of new faces brought into the club seems to be affecting the team as they still learn to play with one another. They showed last week though that they can a handful on their day as they managed to score 4 goals against a good defensive side in Stoke.
Tonight`s result lies mainly down to Sunderland. If the Sunderland side that played Liverpool and Stoke turn up it shall be a very tight game; if the Sunderland side that played Swansea turn up Norwich should have enough to get a win.
I think there maybe a few goals in tonight`s match against two fairly even sides. If City manage to get the first goal then the pressure will be on Sunderland, something their inexperienced frontline might not be able to handle. As Norwich have finally managed to get their first win this shall try them on to get another, and with a packed Carrow Road under the floodlights I think a first home win will soon be on the board for the Canaries. 3-1 Norwich Win.
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