SUNDERLAND HOST Wigan Athletic this weekend as the Black Cat’s search for their first win of the new season extends into a fifth game.
Wigan on the other hand have tasted victory already this season but still sit three places below Martin O’Neill’s side despite having played a game more, thanks to their -5 goal difference.
It’s been a decent start to the new campaign for the Latics, following on from their thrilling end to the 2011-12 season, where despite looking dead & buried at times, Roberto Martinez once again pulled of a ‘Great Escape’.
Martinez’s tactical nous and shrewdness in the transfer market were undoubtedly two of the qualities which attracted Liverpool to make an approach for the Spaniard’s services – according at least to Dave Whelan Sports News!
Aston Villa were also believed to have come back in for the former Swansea City boss for the second time in the space of 12 months, whilst Daniel Levy of Spurs was alleged to have made an approach for Martinez as he sought to replace Harry Redknapp.
Loyalty though, is one of Martinez’s biggest personality traits and the 39 year-old has subsequently extended his stay at the DW Stadium into a fourth year.
Last term the Latics came to the Stadium of Light on November 26, securing a late, late 2-1 victory thanks to a Franco Di Santo goal. A limp performance from the Black Cats spelled the end for Steve Bruce who was promptly sacked and replaced by Martin O’Neill.
Scorer of that goal, Di Santo has improved immeasurably in the last 18 months, becoming a key figure in Martinez’s rejuvinated side.
The Argentine forward bagged seven goals last term – his best return in English football – and has already notched twice in this fledgling campaign.
A hard-working, industrious forward, Di Santo has added some superb strikes to his personal portfolio in recent times and the former Chelsea forward has quickly and effectively replaced Hugo Rodellega – the club’s leading Premier League scorer.
Supplying the ammunition for Di Santo and his fellow strikers has been playmaker Shaun Maloney.
Signed for the paltry sum of £1m from Celtic las term, the 29 year-old attacker has stepped into a pivotal role at the DW Stadium in recent times.
Maloney’s previous stay in English football was short-lived, spending 18 frustrating months under O’Neill at Villa and making just 14 league starts in the process.
This term has seen the Scottish international play a key role in behind the main striker with five league and two international appearances so far.
Born in Malaysia, Maloney will look to make up for lost time with the Latics having made just 118 league starts in a stop-start career to date.
Striker Arouna Kone is enjoying a good start to life in the Premier League, bagging two goals in his first four games for the Latics.
Signed over the summer for an undisclosed fee from last season’s suprirse La Liga package, Levante, Kone is a vastly-experienced Ivory Coast international.
The 35-cap Ivorian bagged 15 in 34 league appearances on-loan at Levante last term having previously turned out for the likes of Hannover, Sevilla and PSV Eindhoven.
Martinez could be without Di Santo for Saturday’s clash, the forward sidelined recently with a calf problem. There’s better news regarding defender Antonlin Alcarez who should recover from a hip problem in time to feature.
Sunderland are without Wes Brown (knee) and Carlos Cuellar (hamstring), whilst Lee Cattermole begins his suspension.
Adam Johnson is fit enough to feature along with David Vaughan. Midfielder Seb Larsson (hamstring) and Fraizer Campbell (ankle) are doubts. There is also talk Phil Bardsley could be back sooner rather than later following ankle surgery.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, O’Shea (c), Bramble, Rose; Larsson, Vaughan, Colback, McClean; Sessegon; Fletcher.
Wigan Athletic: Al-Habsi; Caldwell (c), Ramis, Figueroa; Boyce, Beausejour; Watson, McCarthy; Gomez; Maloney & Kone.