Sunderland will be looking to take another step closer to Premier League safety this weekend as they host Southampton in their penultimate game of the season.
The Saints are just a point and a place better off than Paolo Di Canio’s men, currently perched in 14th with 39 points on the board.
After Wigan’s 3-2 defeat at the hands of Swansea City on Monday night, those sides looking nervously over their shoulder’s at the drop zone can breath slightly easier, with the Latics now three points from safety with two games left to play.
It has been a good return to the Premier League for Southampton following back-to-back promotions – winning many plaudits for the open, attacking style of play that has seen them record memorable wins over the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City this term.
New head coach Mauricio Pochettino, appointed in the middle of January, has won four and drawn five of his 14 matches in charge since taking over from Nigel Adkins.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the south coast outfit and most others promoted into the top-flight is the amount of flair they have played with throughout the season.
Whilst it is the natural domain of most promoted sides to stay tight at the back, soak up the pressure and counter-attack the opposition, Southampton have always taken the game to the opposing side right from day one; a tactic which appears to have paid dividends for Adkins and now Pochettino.
And, with the combined attacking talents of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana, Guly Do Prado, Jason Puncheon and Rickie Lambert, it’s hardly surprising.
Southampton have more natural flair than most sides in the bottom half and also the invaluable goalscoring knack of Lambert.
The 31 year-old Liverpudlian has taken to the Premier League with ease, bagging 14 goals during his first season at this level. Signed from League One Bristol Rovers for £1m in 2009, Lambert has gone on to power home 93 goals in just 163 appearances for the club.
Having served his footballing apprenticeship with Blackpool, Macclesfield Town, Stockport County and Rochdale in the lower leagues, the workaholic front-man has even been touted for a potential England call-up this season after making the step-up with apparent ease.
The Wearsiders will be hoping that John O’Shea can keep Lambert quiet as they go in search of a valuable three points.
Sunderland are without Lee Cattermole (knee), Wes Brown (knee), Steven Fletcher (ankle), Titus Bramble (calf), Craig Gardner (suspension) and Stephane Sessegnon (suspension). Though Connor Wickham could return following injury, leaving Di Canio with few options to change his starting XI.
Southampton midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin is their only doubt with a hip problem.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O’Shea (c), Cuellar, Rose; Johnson, Larsson, N’Diaye, Colback; McClean; Graham.
Southampton: Boruc; Clyne, Hoovield, Fonte, Shaw; Davis, Cork; Rodriguez, Lallana (c), Guly; Lambert.
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