SUNDERLAND START the New Year with a trip to Wigan Athletic, and the opportunity to face the side whose victory over the Black Cats spelt the end for Steve Bruce.
It`s fair to say that both sides have come a long way since a Franco Di Santo tap-in earnt Bruce the sack on November 26 2011.
Roberto Martinez`s Latics outfit have been on one of their best runs since climbing into the Premier League, taking points off of Stoke, Liverpool and Chelsea as well as collecting a win against West Brom.
Sunderland of course have taken off under Martin O`Neill tasting defeat just once in their opening five games under O`Neill including Sunday`s sensational victory over Manchester City at the Stadium of Light.
Returning to Wigan though; central to the transformation in form has been Martinez`s tactical nous. The Spaniard has switched from his oft-used 4-5-1 system and utilized a 3-5-1-1, which includes wing-backs.
Whilst there have been humblings by Arsenal and Manchester United during this improved run, the improvement has been marked for a side who looked doomed for relegation earlier in the campaign.
The men who have found themselves thrust in at wing-back are Ronnie Stam and David Jones. Stam, 27, arrived from FC Twente last summer. Although the Dutchman can never have truly called himself a ‘regular` during his time at the DW Stadium, he does look to have found a niche now as the right wing-back in Martinez`s new creation. Tough in the tackle but equally capable of pushing forward and supporting the attack-minded players, the Breda-born utility man has made 26 league starts as a Latic with a further 14 appearances coming from the bench.
On the opposite flank, Jones did not make his name as a defender, let alone a wing-back. The 27 year-old was used predominantly as a central midfielder throughout his career to date, taking in spells with Wolves, Derby County and Manchester United before arriving in Lancashire.
Another tough-tackling type, Jones has also taken in a spell in Holland where he plyed his trade for NEC Nijmegen on-loan from Old Trafford back in 2006.
Another man who has impressed recently is Spanish midfielder, Jordi Gomez. The former Swansea City, Espanyol and Barcelona man arrived at the DW in 2009 in a £1.7m swoop from Martinez`s former club.
The flamboyant playmaker has been amongst the goals of late for Wigan, scoring penalties against Sunderland and West Brom as well as bagging against Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers. A cute passer of the ball, Gomez is the central creative force in the midfield trio.
Martinez will be without the defensive trio of Chris Kirkland (back), Emmerson Boyce (hamstring) and captain Gary Caldwell (suspended).
O`Neill has defensive headaches of his own with Wes Brown (groin),Titus Bramble (Achilles) and Michael Turner (knee) all out. Keiren Westwood (illness) is also a doubt to take a place on the bench.
Skipper Lee Cattermole was subbed through injury against City but should be fine to resume his midfield berth whilst Phil Bardsley (thigh) and Kieran Richardson (illness) are doubts.
Wigan Athletic: Al-Habsi; Alcarez, Gohouri, Figueroa; Stam, Gomez, McCarthy, Diame, Jones; Moses; Rodellega.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, O`Shea, Kilgallon, Bardsley; Larsson, Cattermole (c), Vaughan, Colback; Sessegnon; Bendtner.