Beleaguered Sunderland will need to upset the odds to beat in-form Everton and revive their bid to avoid Premier League relegation.
Gus Poyet’s side are rooted to the foot of the table, seven points from safety, after picking up just one point from their last seven top-flight matches.
The club’s next three fixtures would appear to offer little room for optimism, with games at title contenders Manchester City and Chelsea following the visit of Everton.
By the time fellow strugglers Cardiff City arrive at the Stadium of Light on April 27, the situation could be beyond repair – something Poyet acknowledged following Monday night’s 5-1 humbling at Tottenham.
“I think we need a miracle. We need something unique, a shock, because if not I cannot see it coming,” said the Uruguayan.
The vibrant displays that brought a 3-0 derby victory at Newcastle United on February 1 – Sunderland’s last league win – and gave Manchester City an almighty scare in last month’s League Cup final are now a distant memory for Poyet.
By contrast, Roberto Martinez’s Everton are very much on the crest of a wave following last Sunday’s stirring 3-0 win over Arsenal at Goodison Park, a result that leaves them in control of their destiny when it comes to securing qualification for the UEFA Champions League.
On the same weekend Sunderland fell foul of City at Wembley, Everton beat West Ham 1-0 to launch a winning run that presently stands at six Premier League games.
Belgium international Romelu Lukaku came off the bench to net a late winner against West Ham following an injury lay-off, and the influence of the on-loan Chelsea striker on Everton’s subsequent charge cannot be underestimated.
Deployed unconventionally on the right-hand side of Everton’s attack last time out, he unsettled Arsenal’s backline throughout and stormed in from the flank to score his 14th goal in 27 appearances for the Merseyside club.
A point behind fourth-placed Arsenal with a game in hand, Martinez’s men are now emerging from their status as fancied outsiders to be seen as a team expected to succeed.
However, Everton will not be taking Sunderland lightly this weekend, having been beaten 1-0 in December’s reverse fixture.
“They’ve had significant performances at home this season and they can replicate that level at any time,” said Martinez of Sunderland on Thursday.
“We’ll have to be at our best against a team that’s ready to fight for every ball and you have to have the same level of focus and concentration.
“We remember the defeat at home against them and we need to be as good as we can be.”
Martinez provided an update on midfielder Leon Osman, who was forced off early against Arsenal with a facial injury.
“Leon Osman is the only doubt we have. The cut is healing well but the eye is not fully open so we need to make sure that doesn’t affect his vision,” added the Spaniard.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!