Sunderland vs Watford Preview: Young Stars to Get Their Chance

It might not mean much, but we've got one game left to see out this Premier League season. Will Big

by Michael_Peters Friday, 13 May 2016 05:38 PM Comments
It might not mean much, but we've got one game left to see out this Premier League season. Will Big Sam's men be on holiday after surviving the drop on Wednesday?

For the fourth season in a row, we've pulled off a Great Escape to survive the drop with one match remaining. Wigan's collapse against Arsenal in 2013 rendered our final-day trip to Tottenham irrelevant, a 2-0 win over West Brom masterminded by Gus Poyet meant that the visit of Swansea was meaningless, and a brave goalless draw at the Emirates last season meant there was nothing to play for at Stamford Bridge on the last day.

This season, our dead-rubber last game sees us travel to Vicarage Road to face a Watford side whose season ended at Wembley last month as they lost the FA Cup semi-final to Crystal Palace. Since then, they've narrowly beaten a dismal Aston Villa (despite trailing after 89 minutes) and were comfortably seen off by Liverpool and relegated Norwich. Bizarrely, with his newly-promoted side 13th in the Premier League and with a trip to Wembley to his name, Hornets manager Quique Flores will leave his post as Watford manager.

The decision to part company with Flores is, from an outsider's perspective, baffling. Promoted Burnley would snap your hand off if they were offered 13th and a semi-final next season. Following recent seasons of constantly battling against relegation, Sunderland would see a season like that as a massive improvement. And I'm sure there's not a single Newcastle fan out there who wouldn't swap places with Watford in a heartbeat following their relegation. Should the board not be trying harder to keep a hold of the Spanaird?

Regardless, it means that a buoyant Sunderland side would seem to have the upper hand against Watford. A lot will depend on the team that Allardyce puts out; having named an unchanged side for seven consecutive games, the Sunderland boss has indicated that there will be changes on Sunday. In particular, he has indicated that a number of Andy Welsh's under-21 squad may get the chance to stake their early claim to a first-team place next season. 

Jordan Pickford, who spent half the season on loan at Preston, has been many observers' choice for Championship goalkeeper of the season, and may feature on Sunday. He has made one appearance in the Premier League this season, and performed admirably despite a 4-1 defeat to Tottenham. Left-back Tommy Robson also stands a chance of featuring, having trained with the first team regularly in recent weeks and with Sunderland looking for candidates for regular first-team full-backs next season. Midfielder George Honeyman and winger Rees Greenwood are also understood to be in with a chance of featuring.

For Watford, the main threat is expected to come from Odion Ighalo, who has 16 Premier League goals to his name this season, one more than Jermain Defoe. Despite the Hornets' decline in form over the past few weeks, Ighalo has remained a constant thorn in defenders' sides. He has pace and strength in equal measure and can outmuscle almost any defender in the league - but then, he's yet to come up against Lamine Kone.

So, where does this leave us ahead of Sunday's game? It's hard to predict Sam's lineup, and accordingly, hard to predict the score. History may be against us, as Sunderland have lost on the final day in each of the last four seasons, but thankfully, none of them mattered and neither does this one. Don't worry about the score, just sit back and enjoy seeing some fringe players get some Premier League experience - and then look forward to all the nerves and tension again next season.