City travel to Wearside Sunday looking to end a run of three straight 1-0 defeats in this fixture. Sunderland are coming off a 2-1 win against Southampton in the Capital One Cup but have struggled mightily in the league and find themselves in 19th place, five points from safety. I spoke to David Boyle from Sunderland's SB Nation blog 'Roker Report' for more info on our foes from the northeast. I also did a Q&A for them, which can be found here.
- B&B: It's been a rough start to the season for Sunderland. What hasn't worked out so far, and have things been looking better lately?
RR: Quite simply the Paolo Di Canio experiment failed miserably and in hindsight was a massive error of judgment from the Sunderland hierarchy to award him with a contract extension in the summer.
Di Canio endeared himself to Sunderland fans by immediately identifying problems with the current squad which had long gone untreated under previous regimes and tried, foolhardily it would transpire, to implement a more strict and regimented environment behind the scenes. However it soon transpired that it was more of a dictatorship that sapped away at the squad's morale and confidence.
One area the club are still benefiting from courtesy of Di Canio is the rigorous fitness training he put the squad through pre-season. Jack Colback for exampled evolved over the summer from your typical, slight, young midfielder to a physically stronger unit that has seen him dominate games against much bigger opponents with the recent win over Newcastle being a key example of this where young Jack compeletely outplayed and out-fought both Chiek Tiote and Yohan Cabaye.
As you mention, things since the Italian's departure have looked promising even if the results have not always reflected the upturn in performances. Kevin Ball came in and steadied the ship nicely ahead of Gus Poyet's arrival. The new manager has brought reason to believe however no Sunderland fan is underestimating to scale of the job that Poyet has on his hands to turn this mess around.
- B&B: It's obviously been only a few games so far so it may be difficult to gauge properly, but what's the feeling on Gus Poyet so far?
RR: He's been mostly well received I'd say. There were some ill-advised opinions floating around that he was simply another Paolo Di Canio in the making with no top flight managerial experience but I'd wager he was shown enough, tactically, yo have won around the majority of doubters.
Perhaps our most recent fixture, Wednesday night's Capital One Cup victory over Southampton, has best showcased how Poyet expects this Sunderland side to play as his possession obsessed vision was clearly evident for the first time since his arrival.
The victory over Newcastle also, obviously, won the hearts of Sunderland fans. You have to remember that up here in the North East of England neither Sunderland nor Newcastle are in any position to win a trophy or championship. We hold bragging rights over our local rivals very dear to our hearts and Poyet masterminded a fantastic victory over Pardew's men. Add to this that this victory was only the second time we have beaten Newcastle on home soil in the twenty-eight years I have been on this planet and you can being to imagine how important such a victory is to the fans.
- B&B: How have the new signings been settling in the team? Can you give our American readers a more in-depth take on how Jozy Altidore has been?
RR: Jozy is an interesting one to be honest who has divided fans opinion so far. As you'd expect the burly forward's buildup and holdup play has been a great asset to the side however you feel that he really needs to add goals to his game. I feel a little for the lad as he unjustly had a great goal against Arsenal chalked off and you have to wonder how he would have benefited from the confidence that goal would have brought.
To be honest there were that many new faces brought in over the summer that I could easily be here all day assessing them all.
Emmanuelle Giaccherini was probably the 'biggest' signing of the summer and despite initially impressing the Italian's performances have tailed off somewhat to the point that he has been overlooked in recent weeks by Poyet. Talk of a return to Italy in January was initially scoffed at but having seen him sulk around the field on Wednesday night I'm beginning to wonder if his time on Wearside is set to come to an abrupt end.
The most influential incoming player has probably been loanee Ki Sung-Yeung from Swansea whose ability and vision with the ball looks, pardon the pun, set to be key to how Poyet wants to set his side up for the rest of the season.
- B&B: Form and injury situation currently? Do you foresee any changes in personnel for this weekend's match?
RR: Well we will obviously have to shuffle the pack due to the suspensions of both Lee Cattermole and Andrea Dossena following their dismissals last weekend. Midweek saw Phil Bardsley deputise for Dossena in the left back spot with Ondrej Celustka installed at right back. However Celustka hobbled off on Wednesday night and may well not be fit for Sunday afternoon, so Di Canio has a decision to make there.
Steven Fletcher should certainly make a return to the starting eleven having been selected among the substitutes for the recent cup game. Fletcher's influence on this side is basically priceless.
Elsewhere I wouldn't be surprised to see Giaccherini once again miss out. The Italian did come off with what looked to be a back injury on Wednesday night but he hardly impressed before sustaining the injury either.
Keiren Westwood may also return between the sticks at the expense of Vito Mannone.
- B&B: Finally, a prediction for the match? Where do you see the key battles being played out on the pitch?
RR: Given the uncertainty over Ondrej Celustka's fitness there is a concern that Craig Gardner may well be forced to fill the void at right back. If this is to be the case I'd expect City to have an absolute field day down their left wing and can easily see Samir Nasri or David Silva causing us all kinds of problems here.
Otherwise there is the obvious fear that given your recent goal scoring exploits, the huge boost in confidence this brings along with progression in the Champions League that Sunderland could be in for a long, hard afternoon.
However, Sunderland have proven to be a thorn in City's side over recent years, so all hope is not lost... That said, I'm expecting nothing more than a routine away win: 1-3.
Many thanks to David for his time! You can follow him on twitter here.