View on the Opposition - Sunderland

The Northern Echo's Chief Football writer Paul Fraser lifts the lid on Saturday's opponents
The Northern Echo’s Chief Football writer Paul Fraser lifts the lid on Saturday’s opponents Sunderland. 

A tough start for Sunderland so far this season, what have you made of the first seven games?

“They are showing signs of improvements in recent weeks, especially since the transfer window closed but they’re still leaking goals too readily. They do look like they’re capable of scoring goals; Fabio Borini has added an extra edge. Jeremain Lens looks decent down the flanks, but defensively that’s the problem.”

Slaven Bilic has praised Dick Advocaat and Sunderland’s squad, is Advocaat the right man for the job?

“Yes, he’s still got the respect of the players, and why wouldn’t they when you look at his CV and his managerial record?

“What he did last season was brilliant; he got all the players working for him. He only had nine games but he turned them round. This year it’s been a little bit different, the players he brought in arrived later then he wanted, most of them came in late August. So that has made it a bit difficult for the squad to jel, he’s readily admitted that in the press.”  

Which of the players have stood out so far?

“Yann M’vila looks like a good signing. He’s played in a couple of difficult positions so far, he signed from Rubin Kazan and he’s had a lot of big clubs after him during his career. He’s a France international with clear quality and if he can strike a good understanding with Lee Cattermole then that will be a real asset for them.

“Jeremain Lens is quite exciting, he could probably do more defensively but he looks like a very decent player going forward. Then with Borini upfront, Sunderland fans know all about him and they know he can do a good job.” 
Still early on in the season, what is the target for Sunderland?

“I think if you’d asked me that at the start of the season I’d have said mid table but the way things have gone, there’s no way Sunderland fans would say that now. All they’re looking for now is survival; they’d take fourth or fifth bottom at this rate.

“They’ve got three huge games up – West Ham, West Brom and Newcastle United, that’ll take them to ten games where we’ll have a better idea of what they’re really like. They will have to pick up points in the next three games realistically because the gap is already widening. They need a lift going into December.”

West Ham’s away form has been superb so far, with that in mind, how do you think Sunderland will approach the game? Would they settle for a point or go for the win?

“I don’t think Sunderland can afford to settle for a point. West Ham’s record so far has been great but Sunderland, at home, can’t be planning for a point. I know Advocaat is trying to tighten things up at the back but they’ll be pushing on and trying to get goals.”

Finally, what is your prediction for Saturday’s score?

“With my optimistic head on, I’ll go for 2-2. I can’t see Sunderland keeping things tight but they can score goals.”