SUNDERLAND PLAY host to one of the Premier League surprise packages this Wednesday night as Paul Lambert`s Norwich City visit the Stadium of Light.
The Canaries have shocked everyone, presumably themselves included, as they sit ninth in the Premier League table enjoying an unbeaten run of six matches.
Indeed, such is the success of Lambert`s side, that a highly-creditable 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea last weekend barely raised any eyebrows. It could perhaps be argued that that is a sign of the ongoing inconsistency down at Stamford Bridge but this is a still a team that only won promotion to the top-flight last season and were in League One two seasons ago.
Masterminding this mesmeric rise to the top of English football is former Wycombe and Colchester manager, Paul Lambert. Even next to our own Martin O`Neill there can be few more inspired appointments in recent years.
One of Lambert`s key policies is bringing in young, talented players from the Football League; in fact only James Vaughan came from a Premier League side in Everton, and the striker has been injured for much of the campaign anyway. The real success stories are the likes of Steve Morison, Bradley Johnson and Anthony Pilkington.
Morison has been an absolute revelation for the Canaries since his August switch from Millwall. It was less than three years ago that the Welsh international was plying his trade for then non-league Stevenage. Now the 28 year old workhorse is doing battle with some of the finest defenders on the planet. Eight goals from his first 18 league starts in Norfolk represent real value for money, especially when you compare Morison`s record to that of Andy Carroll or Fernando Torres.
No praise of former non-league forwards now impressing in the top-flight would be complete without a nod to Grant Holt. The 30 year-old is club captain at Carrow Road and has really made a name for himself at this level as something of a super-sub having top-scored for the past two seasons. Another snip, at just £500,000, the former Sheffield Wednesday, Rochdale, Nottingham Forest and Shrewsbury forward served his footballing apprenticeship with the likes of Workington and Barrow before turning pro` with Wednesday. There`s even been talk (predominantly in East Anglia), of an England call-up for the hulking frontman.
Another man who`s made the step up from the Football League is former Blackpool and Colchester midfielder, David Fox. The 28 year-old started out at Old Trafford before moving onto Bloomfield Road and then Layer Road before following Lambert up way to Norwich. A cultured passer, the midfield schemer has remained central this season, racking up 21 league and cup appearances to date. The Stoke-born playmaker made his 50th Canaries appearance in the Chelsea draw a week ago.
City have made just one capture so far this month, with former Leeds United skipper Johnny Howson signing in a deal believed to be worth £2m. The Whites trainee joins another former Elland Road favourite in at the club in Johnson.
Lambert will be boosted by the return of injured trio Elliott Ward, Marc Tierney and the aforementioned Vaughan, who all took part in the reserves clash with Chelsea last week. Backup ‘keeper Declan Rudd is out.
Sunderland picked up several knocks in the F.A Cup draw with Middlesbrough, most notably Wes Brown. The centre-half looks likely to miss out meaning Michael Turner would partner John O`Shea at the back. Nicklas Bendtner is out with a facial injury but Fraizer Campbell is back to fitness. Skipper Lee Cattermole is doubtful after missing the Wear-Tees clash.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O`Shea (c), Turner, Richardson; Larsson, Gardner, Vaughan, McClean; Sessegnon; Wickham.
Norwich City: Ruddy; Martin, Whitbread, Ayala, Naughton; Fox; Johnson, Surman; Pilkington; Morison & Holt.