SUNDERLAND HOST Premier League surprise package West Bromwich Albion at the Stadium of Light this Saturday.
The Baggies, under the guidance of new boss Steve Clarke are enjoying a terrific start to the season and currently sit in the dizzying heights of fourth after beating Chelsea 2-1 at the Hawthorns last Saturday.
The Black Country outfit`s start to the campaign has been a tremendous surprise for all – including this punter, who tipped them for the drop – following the departure of Roy Hodgson at the end of last term to take over the national job.
The highly-regarded Technical Director Dan Ashworth will soon follow Hodgson to the Football Association, leaving behind a big hole in the club`s recruitment strategy.
Ashworth will not leave immediately – a notice period of 12 months was negotiated by Albion chairman Jeremy Peace – but the man responsible for the likes of Peter Odemwingie, Clauido Yacob and Romelu Lukaku – to name just three, will be keenly missed at the Hawthorns.
Argentine midfielder Yacob, 25, has proved a superb piece of business.
Signed from Argentine side Racing Club, the 5`11 midfielder was named man-of-the-match on his debut against Liverpool on the opening day of the Premier League campaign.
Tidy on the ball, the three-cap Argentina international is equally effective breaking up the play and could prove to be one of the signings of the season at this rate.
Belgian youngster Lukaku is another to hit the ground running, scoring three times in his opening 10 games for the Baggies.
Poached on a season-long loan from Chelsea, the highly-rated 19 year-old was signed for the Blues last summer by Andre Villas-Boas, but has yet to score in eight league appearances for the west Londoners.
Still, Chelsea`s loss has been Albion`s gain, and with 18 full Belgian caps to his name already, the 6`3 powerhouse could well prove to be the heir to Didier Drogba`s Stamford Bridge throne.
Winger James Morrison has proven himself to be a key component of Clarke`s side this term, leading Garth Crooks to tout the Darlington-born midfielder for an England call-up, in spite of his 25 full Scottish caps!
Capable of playing centrally as well as out wide in the Baggies` 4-2-3-1 system, Morrison started his career at Middlesbrough and has international recognition for England at U17, U18, U19 and U20 level before switching allegiance.
A tidy, technical ball-player, Morrison is rapidly approaching 150 Barclays Premier League appearances for the club after signing in 2007 under Tony Mowbray.
Clarke has just three injury concerns with Steven Reid and Gareth McAuley (both hamstring) out. Goalkeeper Ben Foster could return, if not Bo Myhill will keep his place between the posts.
Martin O`Neill has the fewest injury concerns in the Premier League – just Wes Brown is out – meaning he should start the same XI that beat Fulham last Sunday.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O`Shea, Cuellar, Rose; Larsson, Cattermole (c), Colback, Johnson; Sessegnon; Fletcher.
West Bromwich Albion: Myhill; Jones, Tamas, Olsson, Ridgewell; Yacob, Mulumbu; Odemwingie, Morrison, Gera; Long.
Referee: Mr M Dean.