SUNDERLAND PLAY host to ailing Aston Villa this weekend in a game which has ‘last on Match of the Day` written all over it.
Sunderland, the lowest scorers in the entire Football League and Premier league, versus Paul Lambert`s Aston Villa, with (like the Black Cats), just one win this season. It`s got the makings of a classic.
In all seriousness though, the game presents two sides coughing and spluttering their way towards mid-table with an opportunity to get a season-starting win against another mediocre side.
It`s been slow progress for the newly-appointed Lambert, after guiding Norwich City to back-to-back promotions and 12th place in the top-flight, the Scot took up the reins at Villa Park following Alex McLeish`s disastrous season in the hot-seat.
In times of austerity, Lambert has spent wisely, using his funds to build from the bottom and bring talented younger players to Villa Park. Crewe`s Ashley Westwood, Chesterfield`s Jordan Bowery, Sheffield United`s Matthew Lowton and Middlesbrough`s Joe Bennett have all made the step up from the Football League with Lambert`s recruitment policy very clearly about developing youngsters.
One slightly more expensive addition was that of Christian Benteke. Costing £7m from Belgian side Genk.
The club`s top scorer in both the league (two) and in all competitions (four), Benteke has taken to English football immediately. Pacey but powerful, the 21 year-old had previously scored 19 in 37 for Genk and enjoyed a productive loan spell as Kortrijk, scoring 15 in 34 during a season-long loan stint.
Having scored at U17, U18, U19 & U21 level for Belgium, the DR Congo-born hitman has scored three times in his first eight games for the full side.
At the back Lambert beefed up his defence with the £3.2m capture of hulking Dutch international, Ron Vlaar.
The 27 year-old, formerly of Feyenoord has quickly become a crowd favourite at Villa Park and his team captain for the season in place of Darren Bent whilst Sitylian Petrov recovers from Leukaemia.
Vlaar has won 12 full caps for the Netherlands and was part of their Euro 2012 squad.
Also signed from Feyenoord was Dutch-born Moroccan midfielder, Karim El-Ahmadi.
Signed for a fee believed to be £2m, the 27 year-old 18-cap Moroccan international adds some much needed steel to the centre of the Villans midfield.
Formerly of FC Twente and Al Ahli (loan), the 5`10 midfielder has become an almost permanent fixture at the heart of Lambert`s midfield.
Lambert has a number of injury issues to contend with ahead of this one, Chris Herd is doubtful due to a muscle problem, while Richard Dunne (groin), Nathan Baker (ankle), Ciaran Clark (knee), Gary Gardner (knee) and Petrov all miss out.
Left-back Bennett should be available again after serving his one-match suspension in midweek during the Capital One Cup defeat of Swindon Town.
Martin O`Neill, hosting his former employers at the Stadium of Light for the first time since leaving in 2010, has fewer concerns.
Wes Brown and Titus Bramble are out, but Seb Larsson and Danny Rose are expected to overcome knocks which ruled them out of the midweek humbling by Middlesbrough.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O’Shea, Cuellar, Rose; Johnson, Cattermole (c), Colback, McClean; Sessegnon; Fletcher.
Aston Villa: Guzan; Herd, Lowton, Vlaar (c), Lichaj; Albrighton, Delph, El-Ahmadi, Holman; Benteke, Agbonlahor.
Referee: Mr M Jones.