Winless in four and without a goal in that period. Recent results don’t make happy reading for Sunderland fans.
The Black Cats are still rooted to the foot of the Premier League and face an important month of April with six games – including the visit of Manchester United and Tees-Wear derby with Middlesbrough – to play.
Six games gives plenty of opportunities for points, and David Moyes’ side need all the points they can get if they’re to mount yet another great escape.
A visit to Watford is their first chance to pick up three points this weekend, with the Hornets themselves only seven points clear of danger.
There’s a boost for Moyes on the defensive front with injured pair John O’Shea and Lamine Kone set to return after lay-offs, meaning they could rekindle their partnership at the heart of the defence.
Captain Lee Cattermole has also claimed he is ready to return to the fold this weekend, although it’s not yet clear as to whether Moyes will risk him.
And the good news just keeps on coming, with hosts Watford expected to be without two key players – talisman Troy Deeney has been suffering with an illness while Sebastien Prodl has a calf problem.
The duo look set to be unavailable, alongside Christian Kabasele, Ben Watson, Valon Behrami, Mauro Zarate and Roberto Pereyra.
What should Sunderland expect?
Watford have certainly showed their creative side under Walter Mazzarri, but they’re innovative and infuriating in equal measure.
As for every moment of brilliance from the Hornets this season there has been a mistake or some sloppy play to negate it, and Mazzarri has been desperate for some consistency this season.
Sunderland are likely to come up against something of a wounded beast. The Hornets are winless since the start of February and will be keen to get back to winning ways in what they will likely have earmarked as a good opportunity to pick up three points.
It’s therefore reasonable to expect that Watford will try and get at Sunderland and exploit their defensive frailties. While the potential loss of top scorer Deeney will undoubtedly restrict their potency in front of goal, Mazzarri’s side will still be a threat and the Black Cats need to be braced for this and switched on defensively. They netted three on their last outing at Vicarage Road and Sunderland need to make sure there isn’t a repeat.
Where can Sunderland exploit?
Defensively, Watford haven’t covered themselves in glory this season. Only five teams have conceded more Premier League goals than the Hornets and these frailties could be exploited if Sunderland are on song.
Jermain Defoe failed to get any real service against Burnley a fortnight ago and Moyes needs to rectify that issue. If Defoe can be given the opportunity to get behind the defence then Sunderland will certainly have opportunities to end their goal-drought. The Black Cats had a fair amount of joy against the Hornets in their last Premier League meeting and will be hoping for the same this time.
Key battle – Jermain Defoe v Younes Kaboul
Moyes admitted this week that Sunderland have missed Kaboul’s leadership at times this season, and the Frenchman has certainly proved an asset to Watford since his switch from the Stadium of Light.
But could he struggle against Defoe this weekend? Fresh off the back of his goal for England last weekend, the striker will be looking to continue his fine form. He’ll find it hard against Kaboul, but if he can catch him on the turn or get in behind then he’ll have every opportunity to find the back of the net. For Kaboul, keeping Defoe quiet will be the top priority as it’s hard to see goals coming from elsewhere.
Last time they met – Sunderland 1-0 Watford
The two sides last met in December at the Stadium of Light, with the Black Cats running out winners after Patrick Van Aanholt’s second-half strike.
Sunderland are in dire need of points and will see this as a great chance to get some. It’s hard to see the defence not being breached, but if they can find their shooting boots then there’s no reason why the Black Cats can’t secure victory.
Prediction – Watford 1-2 Sunderland