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Sunderland preview

In my contribution to The Observer's preview of today's game, I focused very much on the race for seventh place. Yet, with yesterday's results at the bottom end of the table, the threat of relegation has once again been raised in certain quarters.

It is not a threat I subscribe to though given our impressive home return this season, and the sheer number of teams between ourselves and the bottom three who, simply put, are not collectively good enough to put enough results together to see us fall into trouble.

A win today though (in a game which we are clear favourites) would see us again move up the table and be just a win off West Ham in seventh - a distinct possibility if we can just resolve our away woes.

Team wise (from BBC Sport) is as follows:

Stephen Ireland and Wayne Bridge picked up ankle and hamstring injuries respectively in Manchester City's Uefa Cup win over Aalborg and are doubts.

Vincent Kompany, faces a late fitness test on his toe injury but striker Craig Bellamy (knee) may feature.

Sunderland defenders Anton Ferdinand and Nyron Nosworthy are available after recovering from hamstring injuries.

Tal Ben Haim is unavailable under the terms of his loan agreement with City while Kieran Richardson is suspended.
It is of course a bonus that Nigel de Jong will return, and I would like to see Valeri Bojinov given a start today. Wayne Bridge has improved since he joined the club but I think Garrido is a serviceable replacement. Stephen Ireland's absence would be a huge blow though, but if he does miss out it is hoped that others (notably Robinho and Elano) really step up to replace both the style and industry he has brought this season.

Sunderland are not out of relegation trouble and know a win today would help their cause greatly. They do not have a great record against us in recent years and their away record is patchy this season. One area we have been consistent in this season is beating those sides at home that we really ought to be doing.

This isn't something I really see changing today and I would expect us to take all three points, likely with a 2-0 victory.