There isn’t much point in me raiding the vocabulary bank in search of some superlatives which may vaguely describe just how important this match is. Quite simply the only thing that truly matters in a game like this is winning three points. We need to turn the mountain that is survival into a molehill and replicating the quality and application shown in the latter stages of that incredible win over Chelsea will go some way to securing that. We probably all earmarked this game at the start of the season as a win but let’s not be too naïve in dismissing the very real possibility that Norwich can cause us problems.
It is true that Norwich’s away form isn’t great, although it is a lot more desirable than ours, but something that may concern us is that their two wins have both been against fellow strugglers West Brom and Stoke City. The nature of their approach to away games is quite stereotypical; their play is a lot narrower than when at home and as a result they pump in much fewer crosses. Generally they show some respect to the home team in terms of possession and in all but one of their away games (the exception being against Hull City) they have managed fewer shots than their hosts. So how the Canaries are likely to set up against us shouldn’t cause too much panic.
A common misconception gained by simply scouring the general Premier League statistics is that Norwich are defensively a very poor side away from home. Baring in mind they have played Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool away from home, it’s not really a record worth dwelling over too much. What possibly reinforces that - they have scored in all but two away games against Spurs and City too, which again is a big improvement on our woeful away exploits. So it’s difficult to expect us to be scoring too many goals.
That being said, something I always allude to in these previews is that we are generally set up to avoid being exploited on the break; something that Aston Villa witnessed a couple of weeks ago. So assuming that Norwich do go into this game to almost exclusively hit us on the break which their previous away games would suggest – that should play into our hands.
Despite a massive effort only on Tuesday I don’t expect to see many changes from our cup quarter final win. We seem well prepared for this congested part of the season as fitness levels are very evident. Even after 120 minutes of football, nobody showed any real signs of fatigue or exhaustion and I’d expect the majority of them to be ready for Saturday.
Jack Colback and Steven Fletcher were out of the side through illness and have trained the last couple of days, but I wouldn’t expect either of them to start. Craig Gardner must surely be dropped after yet another dismal showing and hopefully we can see a midfield three of Lee Cattermole, Seb Larsson and a more advanced Ki Sung-Yeung. This coupled with an attacking trio of Jozy Altidore, Fabio Borini and Emanuele Giaccherini should cause Norwich a lot of bother.
Phil Bardsley is almost certain to start, who he replaces is anyone’s guess and to be quite honest I am not too bothered about which of Ondrej Celustka and Andrea Dossena get dropped because they were both exploited against Chelsea. Purely because he gives us a more natural balance, if you forced me to choose I’d keep Dossena in at left back allowing Bardsley to play on the right.
Mannone, Bardsley, O’Shea, Brown, Dossena, Cattermole, Larsson, Ki, Giaccherini, Borini, Altidore.
I genuinely believe the confidence flowing through us should ensure we have the edge. That and unless Chris Hughton proves he does have some tactical flexibility which he hasn’t shown beforeaz I expect Gus Poyet to out-think his counterpart to help us over power the Canaries. We should dominate the ball and, though we will no doubt have a few shaky moments, I am hoping for a clean sheet – but that would mean a routine win, which is never the Sunderland way now is it? I am going for a 2-1 home win.