Good afternoon and welcome to Sports Mole
's live coverage of today's Premier League showdown between Sunderland
and Watford at the Stadium of Light. Before I jump into the team news, let me just bring you an update from the day's early game in the Premier League, where Everton and Norwich City are currently drawing 1-1, with the goals coming from Romelu Lukaku and Wes Hoolahan.
Right, with business dealt with, let's delve into the team news...
SUNDERLAND STARTING XI: Pantilimon, Yedlin, Jones, O'Shea, Coates, van Aanholt, M'Vila, Toivonen, Borini, Fletcher, Watmore
SUNDERLAND SUBS: Mannone, Rodwell, Johnson, Matthews, Lens, Defoe, Graham
WATFORD STARTING XI: Gomes, Nyom, Cathcart, Britos, Ake, Capoue, Watson, Abdi, Deeney, Jurado, Ighalo
WATFORD SUBS Arlauskis, Paredes, Guedioura, Berghuis, Anya, Diamanti, Oulare
So what to make of the teams? Well, starting with the home side, there's two key absentees. He might not be the most popular man in the Premier League, but Lee Cattermole is the kind of midfielder every team needs: hard working and tenacious, his absence today as the result of a back injury is a big loss.
Also missing for Sunderland, who go into this game nine places and 10 points worse off than Watford, is Sebastian Larsson, who remains on the sidelines with a troublesome knee injury. Jermain Defoe
has recovered from a hamstring injury, but only makes the bench.
It's not all bad news for the Black Cats, though. The sizeable figure of Steven Fletcher has come through a late fitness test on a foot problem, and leads the line for Sunderland. The Scotland international went on a fine run of scoring earlier this season, what the home fans wouldn't give for a return to that kind of form this afternoon.
Watford, meanwhile, have travelled north without midfielder Valon Behrami, who is still struggling with a calf problem. The killer duo of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo
both start, however, as Quique Flores makes just one change to the side that beat Norwich City 2-0
last weekend, as Almen Abdi comes in for Ikechi Anya in midfield.
Defender Sebastian Prodl had been tipped for a return to the Hornets squad after recovering from a calf problem, but he's not made the match-day 18.
He may only be 21, but Duncan Watmore has already established himself as a regualr in the Sunderland squad, and is the kind of home-grown here the Black Cats faithful have been crying out for. Exciting and direct, there's big hopes for Watmore at the Stadium of Light. He even collected a first-class degree in economics and business management from Newcastle University this week.
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It's not hard to see where Sunderland's problems have been this season. The Black Cats have shipped 29 goals in 15 Premier League games - only Newcastle United and Bournemouth have leakier defences. At the other ends things look rosier, with Allardyce's side failing to find the back of the net in just one of their last six fixtures.
Former Manchester United man John O'Shea will be tasked with tightening up that Sunderland back line, and it's a momentous day for the Republic of Ireland international, who makes his 400th Premier League appearance today. From the teamsheet, it appears O'Shea will play alongside Sebastian Coates and Billy Jones - back in the side after missing Sunderland's last two games - in a back three. Tactical tweaks from Big Sam.
Watford have defied all the expectations and currently find themselves sitting pretty in the middle of the Premier League table. Quique Flores has done a superb job, he's got his side playing excellent football, yet they still tick along quietly under the radar. Make no mistake, though, they'll need to be at their best to beat Sunderland today.
He may have been outshone in the goalscoring stakes by striker partner Odion Ighalo - who has nine goals compared to Deeney's five - but the former Walsall man is on one hell of a run, netting in his last four outings for the Hornets, a run which has seen him emulate Maurice Johnston and Luther Blissett. If he scores today, he'll become the first ever Watford player to net in five consecutive top flight games.
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So what can we expect this afternoon? The Sunderland back three - if that is indeed how Allardyce's sets up his team - will need to work hard to keep track of Ighalo and Deeney. Etienne Capoue pulls the strings for Watford, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Yann M'Vila tasked with keeping track of his fellow countryman. Steven Fletcher offers the home side a real physical presence up front, and Craig Cathcart and Miguel Britos will have a fight on their hands this afternoon. But the Black Cats have plenty of craft, too, with Watmore, Fabio Borini and Ola Toivonen all in support of the big striker. It's an intriguing match-up.
The history book seems to suggest the home side have an advantage here, with Sunderland unbeaten in their last six league matches against Watford. But Ighalo, with 25, and Deeney, with 17, have scored a combined total of 42 league goals in 2015, which is 10 more than Sunderland have overall this year.
Let's have a look at what the managers have been saying ahead of today's game...
"We need to win this game to put together a run of four wins in eight games which will reap us 12 points and would be a fantastic start for me," Allardyce told reporters at his press conference ahead of today's kick off. "It would be a fantastic achievement to get us out of the trouble we were in and 15 points from 16 games would be a massive, massive achievement in terms of where we've started from."
Quique Flores, meanwhile, has called on his players to stay focussed, telling reporters: "Sometimes it is all very clear at the start of the season, then after - when we are improving, are comfortable in the table with good feelings - sometimes the mentality of the players is to go very quickly on to other objectives. So for me it is very important to keep the focus."
"For us, it is important to keep humble, to admit we are in a very good position in the table, but not change the objective because that would be dangerous," Flores said.
UPDATE! Today's early Premier League game has just finished Everton 1-1 Norwich City.
He does come across as a very composed manager does Flores. And with good reason, Watford now have six victories in the league this season, equalling the most they have ever enjoyed in a full BPL campaign, which was back in 1999/00. The Hornets finished bottom of the table with 24 points that season, a win today would take them past that figure.
If that stat shows how far Watford have come under Flores, this one should top it. Before this season Watford had won just three of their 38 Barclays Premier League away matches. They have won three of seven so far in 2015/16.
By contrast, Sunderland have not won successive league matches at the Stadium of Light since May 2014. Yikes.
By the looks of things, Fabio Borini is eyeing a goal today...
PREDICTION: We're about 10 minutes away from kickoff here at the Stadium of Light, so let's have a prediction! Sunderland have certainly improved under Alllardyce, and now have every chance of avoiding the drop, but I think that quest for Premier League survival will be dealt a slight blow today. Watford are in absolutely fine form, and look a really settled Premier League side. In Deeney and Ighalo they have a pair of strikers capable of inflicting damage on any side, and I'm backing them to deliver in a 2-1 win for the Hornets.
You can get even more opinion and insight into today's clash from the Sports Mole
The players have finished their warm up, kickoff isn't far away!
It looks mighty cold up in the north east. Watford, who were late arriving at the Stadium of Light, won't like this. You'd assume the Black Cats are more used to this biting, northern climate!
The players are in the tunnel, the sleet and rain is falling, and kickoff is just a few minutes away. Don't go anywhere.
KICKOFF! Sunderland get us underway playing from left to right...
Pacey but scrappy start to the game. Conditions look treacherous out there. Watmore nearly slips in at one end from a Yedlin throw, and at the other Deeney races on to a Nyom long ball, but neither yields a chance.
GOAL! Sunderland 0-1 Watford (Odion Ighalo)
Almen Abdi, with all day to pick a pass, plays Allan Nyom in down the right. Watmore loses the Watford full back, who gets to the byline and pulls a cross back for Ighalo, who slides in at the near post and pokes the ball beyond Costel Pantilimon. As easy as that. Far, far too soft from Sunderland there.
Sunderland pour down the other end and Borini has a shooting chance, but elects instead to try and play in Flecther, who is offside.
The home fans are still right behind their team, and they urge Patrick van Aanholt forward, and the Dutch full-back skips into the box before Abdi clears for a corner, that comes to nothing. They've responded well here, Sunderland.
CHANCE! They're pouring forward, but my word do Sunderland look weak at the back. Ake swings in a cross from the left that Sunderland's defenders just stand and watch, allowing Abdi to steam in at the back post. He brings the high ball down and gets a shot off at the back post, but Pantilimon bundles it behind.
CHANCE! Blimey. Deeney, completely unpressured, slips in Ighalo, who turns his man and gets a shot away which is hacked off the line after Pantilimon got a faint, but crucial, touch. Pandemonium ensures in the Black Cats box, and the ball falls to Juarado, who hammers the ball against the outside of the post from 12 yards. Sunderland are all at sea at the back.
This system just isn't working for Sunderland. Watford have got so much time in midfield, and especially out side. Allardyce is deep in conversation with his team on the touchline.
Billy Jones, stepping out from the back, shows a neat shuffle of the feet to lose his man, before he unleashes an effort from 30 yards, but its high and wide and not pretty.
CHANCE! Much better from the home side. They pressure the Watford midfield, and M'Vila nicks the ball, quickly looking up and playing Borini in over the top. The Italian forward bears down on goal from the right, Fletcher is in the middle, but Borini elects to shoot from a tight angle. However it flies narrowly wide.
SUBSTITUTION! The back three hasn't lasted long. DeAndre Yedlin comes off for Jack Rodwell. It looks like Billy Jones has come across to right-back, Patrick van Aanholt drops back to left-back and John O'Shea and Sebastian Coates are now in the middle of a back four.
Borini goes down under a meaty - but fair - tackle from Ake. We have a short delay while he gets treatment.
We're back up and running. Allan Nyom - who has been superb so far - shepherds the ball out for a goal kick as Watmore chased a punt forward.
The game has slowed a touch, but Sunderland look far more comfortable with their 4-2-3-1. They'll be happy to have limited the damage from that chaotic opening 15 minutes to just a single goal. There's still plenty of time for the Black Cats to play themselves back into this one.
CHANCE! Steven Fletcher, who has barely been involved so far, drops deep to help his side out, but loses the ball to Abdi. The Watford man sweeps the ball out to Deeney, who picks out Capoue on the edge of the area, and the French midfielder's curling, first-time shot is pawed away by the diving Pantilimon.
Borini is in the wars here. This time his heavy touch loses the ball down the right and Britos is across to shepherd the ball behind. Borini tussles with him, and they fall, with the Watford defender accidently standing on the Sunderland man's leg. Looks a sore one.
Borini is back up on his feet, and gathers the ball wide on the right. He looks up and aims a cross at Fletcher, but Cathcart - an ever present for Watford this season - has got the beating of the Sunderland striker in the air. His header, however, falls at the feet of Rodwell 25 yards out, but the substitute has a rush of blood to the head and lashes an effort way over the top of goal. Sunderland had men available out wide there, and Rodwell doesn't look happy with himself.
Ighalo drops deep and robs M'Vila of the ball, despite the warnings of a collective shout of 'man on!' from the Sunderland fans. However, Ighalo then undoes his good work by giving the ball away to Watmore, and the youngster gets his head up quickly and slips in Fletcher down the left. The big striker swings a first-time cross into the box, but it's just beyond the reach of Borini. They're definitely improving here though, the home side.
Rodwell rolls back the years as he executes a perfectly timed sliding tackle, the gets up, scampers clear of his man, before turning on a sixpence under pressure and picking out a glorious ball across midfield. Real touch of class in an otherwise very disjointed affair, there.
CHANCE! M'Vila's corner causes more problems than it should for Gomes in the Watford goal, and his unconvincing punch falls to Borini on the edge of the box. However the Italian can't quite read the flight of the ball, and scuffs a volley wide of goal. He should have done a bit better with that, in all honesty.
Abdi takes a heavy touch, and in his desperation to win the ball back slides in on O'Shea. No booking, and the Sunderland man didn't make anything of it, which is good to see.
Gomes bowls the ball a good 50 yards, and it almost falls to Deeney who would have had the run on his man, but the Watford striker loses his footing on what is now an absolutely sodden surface.
CHANCE! Nyom, who has had the better of Watmore so far, is penalised for trip on the Sunderland man, and M'Vila swings the free kick in from some 40 yards out. It's a decent enough ball, but Britos is up to it, however the Watford man inadvertently sends his header towards his own goal, but Gomes bails him out with a smart reflex save, turning the ball behind at full stretch.
One added minute at the Stadium of Light...
HALF TIME! Sunderland 0-1 Watford
Well, Watford hold a deserved lead at half time. It's been en entertaining game, but there's not a lot of quality on show, save for Ighalo's strike, making it five goals and two assists in last seven games for the Watford striker.
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Sunderland were completely outclassed in that opening 15 minutes, before Allardyce abandoned the back three system, which clearly wasn't working. Since then the Black Cats have been better, and they've got the home crowd right behind them. Borini has been the bright spark, and Watmore has worked hard, but Fletcher has been very isolated at times. Still, they've shown just about enough to think that there could be a way back into this one for the home side.
UPDATE! Let's take a look around the Premier League grounds at half time. Yohan Cabaye has put Crystal Palace 1-0 up against Southampton, while Wilfried Bony has given Manchester City the same advantage against Swansea, while West Ham United's game with Stoke City remains goalless.
Just looking through the Sunderland substitutes, and Allardyce does have plenty of options there. Jermain Defoe, Adam Johnson and Danny Graham could all be involved, though with Rodwell already introduced in place of Yedlin, I'm not sure if Big Sam will roll the dice again at half time.
The players are back out on the pitch and the second half is just moments away. Can Sunderland turn it around? Could Watford move into the top six? Will it ever stop raining? Stick with us to find out.
KICKOFF! Here we go...
Bright start for Sunderland. Patrick van Aanholt skips forward and drags a shot across the face of goal from 25 yards that Watmore is only inches away from poking towards the target.
Nyom - who is so quick and strong - holds off his man and bends a cross in from the right to Ighalo, who flicks the ball towards goal, only to see the flag go up against him.
It's all chuckles as Abdi bumps Borini off the ball from behind. There was the faintest touch of the Italians heals, but he goes down like he's got his ankles caught under a steamroller, much to Abdi's - and the referee's - amusement.
CHANCE! Much, much better from the home side. Fletcher shows plenty of strength to hold the ball up, and lays it off with his chest to Rodwell, who chances a first-time strike from 25 yards. It's a beauty, too, low and angled away from Gomes, but the Brazilian watches it and is down well to push it clear.
He's looked very good since coming on, Rodwell. If Sunderland can get him back to his best, they've got a real player on their hands.
They're working hard, here, Sunderland, but mostly because they're making it so difficult for themselves. So many misplaced passes and poor touches. The Black Cats have a rare spell of possession in front of the Watford box, but it goes to waste when Rodwell lashes an effort high and wide. No where near the quality of his last effort.
SUBSTITUTION! Borini makes way for Adam Johnson, a former Watford loanee I believe...
BOOKING! Rodwell picks up the first caution of the game for diving in on Ben Watson. He can have no complaints.
For every thing Sunderland do well, they kick themselves, They work it well down the right, but Johnson and Jones get their wires crossed when they had a real chance to put the ball in the box, and like that Watford have a goal kick. To their credit, the home fans are still right behind their side, though.
Fletcher shows real quality to lead a one-man breakaway after Watford enjoy a spell of posession, and the big Scot is just one tackle away from making it through on goal, but he just can't quite get the ball to stick.
Sunderland are knocking on the door, albeit quite gently. Jones's cross is turned behind, but the corner comes to nothing.
This must be so frustrating if you're a Black Cats fan. They're so much better than they we're in the first half, but still they just can't quite click. They're queueing up to hit crosses into the box, but none beat the first man, and it's far too easy for Watford to clear.
SUBSTITUTION! Flores makes his first change as Adlene Guedioura comes on for Almen Abdi.
Johnson is the latest Sunerland man to give the ball away as he collects a pass from Jones, skips past Ake, then places his pass straight at the feet of Capoue. Deary me.
SUBSTITUTION! Big Sam makes his last change as Jermain Defoe scampers on in place of Fletcher.
If Defoe is going to make a difference, Sunderland have to improve the service to their striker. It's so poor at the moment, it's untrue.
Sunderland have the ball in the back of the net... but's its ruled out for offside. Defoe is slipped in through the middle, catching the Watford back line far too high up the pitch, and he finishes with real aplomb from just inside the box, but the flag is up. Getting closer.
CLOSE! Watmore finds a little bit of space between the Watford midfield and back four, and with a drop of the shoulder he's off towards goal. He's got Defoe outside him, but this youngster is high on confidence and instead he bends a shot with the outside of his right boot from 25 yards that has Gomes beaten all ends up, but is just inches wide. All Sunderland at the moment. Can they find a leveller?
Into the final 10 minutes at the Stadium of Light...
CHANCE! Watford have barely had a sniff in the second half, but they're almost two ahead as Coates completely misjudges a high ball, leaving Ighalo to scamper in on goal, but Pantilimon stays big and keeps the Hornet's striker at bay. Let off for Sunderland.
CHANCE! Sunderland are straight down the other end, and Defoe cuts in off the left and into the box, running across the face of goal, when suddenly he gets the ball out of his feet and aims a low shot at the bottom left corner. The whole ground thinks its in, but Gomes somehow gets down and turns it around the post. Fantastic save.
CHANCE! Breathless, end-to-end finish to this one. From a Sunderland set piece Watford break, and Ighalo is clear, baring down on goal with only Pantilimon to beat. He slows, and prepares to pull the trigger from 18 yards, but out of nowhere Coates appears to get in a stunning last ditch tackle. Wow.
CHANCE! And another for Sunderland! van Aanholt's low, out-swinging cross sees Gomes try to claim it, but Defoe just beats him to it, poking the ball inches wide. Crazy stuff!
After an insane four minutes which could have seen four goals, this has slowed down a touch. Sunderland regrouping for one last attack, perhaps?
Big Sam thinks so. He's out of his dugout and waving his players forward like a maniac!
CHANCE! Oh my word, this is the best of the bunch for the Black Cats. M'Vila swings a cross in from the right that Watmore flicks on at the near post, and Johnson has stolen a march on his man at the back stick, but he can only drag his half-volley across the face. So, so, so close!
Deeney's shot from 20 yards deflects of O'Shea and the Hornets have a corner, but they're in no rush to take it.
Three minutes to be added on here.
If the Black Cats do find an equaliser here, several thousand Sunderland fans will miss it. They're filing out of the Stadium of Light by the truckload here...
CHANCE! Sunderland have everyone forward, but they get hit on the break and Ighalo and Deeney have all day! Ighalo elects against playing his striker partner in, but sees his effort saved by Pantilimon at the near post. The big goalkeeper is up like a shot and launches an attack...
FULL TIME: Sunderland 0-1 Watford
That last attack came to nothing, and Sunderland, despite all their hard work, fall to defeat. Defoe threatened when he came on, and on another day the Black Cats could easily have drawn - or even won - but it wasn't to be, and that will be no consolation to their fans.
For Watford though, the show goes on! Quique Flores has steered his side to another win, and the Hornets could finish the day in the top seven of the Premier League table
. Troy Deeney may not have scored for a fifth consecutive game, but Odion Ighalo stepped up with his fifth goal in seven games to seal all three points.
For now, though, that's it from me. Thank you for joining me for what was a thoroughly entertaining afternoon at the Stadium of Light.