MX23RW : Tuesday, June 22 11:16:06| >> :600:1632579:1632579:
Jan 23, 2016 at 3pm UK at Stadium of Light
Sunderland
1-1
Bournemouth
FT(HT: 1-1)
Afobe (13')

Preview: Sunderland vs. Bournemouth

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Premier League relegation battle between Sunderland and Bournemouth at the Stadium of Light.

Two of the bottom six will go head to head this weekend as Sunderland host Bournemouth at the Stadium of Light.

Six points currently separate the two sides in the table, with Sunderland down in 19th and Bournemouth comparatively comfortable in 15th place.


Sunderland

Sunderland's English manager Sam Allardyce arrives for the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Sunderland at Selhurst Park in south London on November 23, 2015© Getty Images

They may wish that there was no need for them, but great escapes have been a telling feature of Sunderland's seasons in recent years.

Another could be required this time around, with four points separating them from safety and the teams around them in the table beginning to show signs of improvement.

The Black Cats have also stirred into life recently, though. After a dismal December that saw them lose all five matches, they began the new year with priceless victories over relegation rivals Aston Villa and Swansea City.

It appeared as though they might carry that form on to White Hart Lane when they took the lead against Tottenham Hotspur last weekend, but they were soon pegged back and eventually succumbed to a 4-1 defeat in North London.

Matches against the likes of Spurs are not likely to determine whether Sunderland stay in the division, though, and Sam Allardyce has called on his players to replicate the displays and "big-game mentality" that they showed in their wins over Villa and Swansea for this weekend's match against another side in the mire.

Norwich City, Swansea and Newcastle United will all be underdogs in their respective ties this weekend, so a victory for Sunderland, or indeed Bournemouth, could see them steal a march on their closest rivals.

The upcoming fixtures make this weekend's game all the more important for Sunderland too. After Bournemouth, the Black Cats take on Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, West Ham United, Crystal Palace and Southampton in succession - six of the current top 10.

Allardyce has already made moves to shore up the league's leakiest defence this transfer window, although the arrival of Jan Kirchhoff did not exactly go to plan when he gave away a penalty and saw a goal deflect in off him on his debut at the weekend.

They do at least have players in form at the other end of the pitch, though. Jermain Defoe has scored more goals (five) than any other player so far in 2016, while Adam Johnson has twice as many assists as anyone else in the top flight since the turn of the year (four), taking him level with his best-ever assist tally in a Premier League season (six).

There has also been an improvement at home under Allardyce, who has steered his side to three wins in their last six league games at the Stadium of Light - the same number of victories as Sunderland had managed in their previous 19 games in front of their own fans before his arrival.

Recent form: LLLWWL
Recent form (all competitions): LLWLWL


Bournemouth

Bournemouth's English manager Eddie Howe celebrates winning after the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge in London on December 5, 2015.© Getty Images

The immediate need for points is not quite as great for Bournemouth as it is for Sunderland, but the Cherries will know that they are far from safe at the moment.

Eddie Howe would bite your hand off if you offered him their current position of 15th at the end of the season, and victory this weekend could even take them above Chelsea and as high as 13th.

However, the gap to the relegation zone remains only three points, and a bad spell of form could quickly see them dragged back into the bottom three. With their three matches after this one coming against teams in the top eight, that will certainly be on Howe's mind.

It makes this weekend's match all the more important, but the Cherries do at least go into the game on the back of a morale-boosting 3-0 victory over fellow strugglers Norwich City last weekend.

The scoreline did not flatter the hosts at Dean Court either, and the day was made even better when new signing Benik Afobe opened his account for the club with a crisp finish. He has shown in the lower leagues that he knows where the goal is, and if he can transfer that form to the top flight then it could prove to be the difference between Bournemouth going down or staying up.

The victory over Norwich crucially ended a four-match winless streak in the league that had seen Bournemouth score just one goal, although in general they have not had many problems finding the back of the net this season.

Their tally of 26 goals scored is more than the likes of Liverpool, Stoke and Crystal Palace have managed, although Callum Wilson does remain their top league scorer despite not having featured since September.

Away from home, Bournemouth have lost just one of their last six matches in all competitions and have only been beaten once on the road by a team in the bottom half of the table this season.

Recent form: WDLDLW
Recent form (all competitions): DLDWLW


Team News

Benik Afobe celebrates after scoring his first Bournemouth goal against Norwich City on January 16, 2016© Getty Images

Despite bringing in two new strikers already this month, Howe could find himself with an attacking shortage this weekend.

Afobe is a doubt for the game with a knee injury, while fellow new arrival Lewis Grabban is currently suffering from illness and may only start if there are no other options.

Josh King and Tommy Elphick and around a week away from making their returns, while Max Gradel, Tyrone Mings and Wilson are long-term absentees.

Sunderland have less to worry about on the injury front, with Younes Kaboul rated 50-50 due to a hamstring strain and Adam Matthews still sidelined.

Allardyce must decide whether to hand a full debut to Kirchhoff, however, while he will be forced into at least one change from last weekend after Danny Graham left the club to join Blackburn Rovers on loan.

Sunderland possible starting lineup:
Pickford; Jones, O'Shea, Brown, Van Aanholt; Cattermole, M'Vila, Johnson, Lens, Watmore; Defoe

Bournemouth possible starting lineup:
Boruc; Smith, Francis, Cook, Daniels; Stanislas, Gosling, Surman, Arter, Pugh; Grabban


Head To Head

These two sides have only ever met seven times before, with Bournemouth's solitary victory from those clashes coming in the reverse fixture at Dean Court in September.

Wilson and Matt Ritchie got the goals for the Cherries inside the opening 10 minutes on that occasion to hand Bournemouth their first ever top-flight victory at home.

They have not faced each other in Sunderland since a 1989 League Cup tie at Roker Park which ended 1-1. Sunderland have won one and drawn two of their three home games against Bournemouth in all.


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We say: Sunderland 2-2 Bournemouth

Neither side have exactly been watertight at the back so far this season, and with clinical strikers in both squads that could result in a few goals flying in. Both have had decent results against teams around them in the table this month, but we feel that the spoils will be shared on this occasion.



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Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
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2 462691183463787
3 4623111260372380
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5 4622111369501977
6 462281677562174
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13 461811176462265
14 46197206367-464
15 461612184946360
16 461512196173-1257
17 461315185057-754
18 461411215380-2753
19 461215195470-1651
20 46139245477-2348
21 461114216178-1747
22 461112234167-2645
23 46134295589-3443
24 46108284070-3038

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