View on the Opposition - Sunderland

The Chronicle’s Stuart Rayner gives us the lowdown on Saturday's visitors
The Chronicle’s Stuart Rayner gives us the lowdown on Saturday's visitors Sunderland

Sunderland have had some tough fixtures recently, but they’ve achieved some pretty good results. What have you made of their form recently?

“I think it stems from the signings they’ve brought in in January, they’ve also settled in very quickly which is absolutely crucial given where Sunderland are. Wahbi Khazri and Lamine Kone were both involved in the goals against Manchester United and they’ve both been very impressive.

“Generally, they played very well at Manchester City without getting a result, played poorly against Liverpool but showed really good character in the last ten minutes and then it all came together against United.”

How important do you think that win over Manchester United could be?

“Very significant, especially because the two previous games they sort of did half a job, but against United they really clicked into place and deserved the win.”

One of the biggest features of today’s game is Sam Allardyce’s return to West Ham. What have you made of him both on and off the pitch so far?

“Well, I remember covering Newcastle back when he was manager so it’s interesting to see how much he’s changed since then. Media-wise, he seems a lot warmer to the press, a lot more relaxed and comfortable with himself. That’s been nice to see.”

Is he the right man to steer Sunderland away from the relegation zone?

“Things have certainly improved since he’s joined and I think there’s a cautious optimism around the place. Having said that, they are still in the bottom three and I think it’ll be very tight between now and the end of the season.”
 Apart from the new signings, who has stood out for you across the season?

“Yann M’Vila has been very impressive since joining on loan from Rubin Kazan. He’s played at the heart of midfield, mainly as a defensive figure and has done very well. Jermain Defoe too, of course West Ham fans know all about him. He’s scored some crucial goals already and his threat up front will be massive.”

Given Sunderland’s position, do they have to go for the win, or is an away point still a good result?

“I think they are in a position where they have to go for games. If they’re in a position where they are 2-0 down after 30 minutes then fair enough, you do have to take risks. But they do have to go for each game now and try and win.”

This will be the last time Sunderland play at the Boleyn Ground before the move to the new Stadium, so what particular memories stick out?

“It was about four or five years ago when Steve Bruce was manager, Sunderland played here on the last game of the season and they managed to finish in the top half of the table. Something they’ve only done three times since the 1950s. So that was very significant in its own right, but they also finished about Newcastle that year.

“Last season, it was Dick Advocaat’s first game in charge so that was quite significant too.”

What is your prediction for Saturday's score?

“I’ll go for a draw, but I think it’ll be a very difficult game.”