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Sunderland preview

Even with an international break I'm not sure we have gone as long as fifteen days between games before, but we resume Premier League action tomorrow with a trip to Sunderland which signals the start of a very important period of games.

With eleven games remaining in the season we all know that on paper at least, the next four games provide a real opportunity to make a mark on the table and potentially put some distance between us and our rivals for the holy grail of fourth place.

By the time we play on Sunday, both Aston Villa and Tottenham will have already played, whilst Liverpool are due to play Monday evening (where they have a terrible recent record). Either way, by knowing two of our rivals results, this will add to the pressure.

Sunderland ended a miserable streak of results with a win last weekend but it is difficult to know whether this is a blessing or a curse. They are either set to go on a tear until the end of the season, or now the win is out of the way, could revert to recent type.

Our record both against Sunderland and at the Stadium of Light is very impressive - four consecutive wins on the road and nine overall in succession point to an away win. The game earlier in the season at CoMS was a strange one but of course played out amidst the backdrop of the Mark Hughes sacking.

I doubt we will see an end to end 4-3 result again, but we must be favourites. The two weeks that have passed since our last game will have allowed the squad to freshen up, whilst affording Roberto Mancini some time on the training ground.

I don't however expect much change to the side that defeated Chelsea. The big decision centres around the return of Patrick Vieira, with most fans having their fingers crossed that he doesn't return given this would likely see a more defensive mindset deployed. That said though, the inclusion of Bellamy and more importantly Tevez in attack may more than compensate for this and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw the trio of de Jong, Barry and Vieira behind Bellamy, Tevez and Johnson. The alternative of Stephen Ireland does not look too much of an alternative given his recent form.

Sunderland have selection problems both with suspension and injury and whilst a tight game is expected, it would be a surprise if we did not come away with the win to continue the momentum we have begun to generate as we attempt to take the ten points from the four games I think is needed as we aim to hit the seventy point mark which should be good enough for Champions League qualification.

Prediction? A 2-0 victory with Carlos Tevez again the star man.