NO CHRISTMAS SPIRIT FOR SUNDERLAND

By Rowan Farnham-Long
Dec 7th, 2007

As we enter further into the festive season, the party atmosphere at Stamford Bridge is already in full flow. With an unbeaten record which stretches back almost to the very first Christmas (I did say almost), Saturday sees the arrival of potential party-poopers Sunderland, who will have to have written an early letter to Santa in hope of getting anything out of the game. Roy Keane’s side have lost their last four away games and indeed not won one all season though, surely a gift-wrapped early present for Chelsea then?

Now, having used up nearly all my Christmas links in what is only our second game of December, I’ll move on to the important stuff. Significantly, the return of Petr Cech from a calf injury which has seen the Czech stopper miss the last few games. Although understudy Carlo Cudicini has performed admirably in Cech’s time out, it’s a big boost regardless to see the first-choice ‘keeper return. Didier Drogba is rated doubtful for the game with a knee injury but may make it into the starting line-up, while Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Ballack are still injured. Michael Essien is suspended.

Sunderland are without winger Carlos Edwards who broke his leg in their last-gasp win over Derby County last weekend, while Nyron Nosworthy and Kieron Richardson are other notable absentees. The Black Cats have a real goal-scoring threat in striker Kenwyne Jones so hopefully he won’t see a lot of the ball. Four league goals so far this season confirm his ability and Sunderland will be looking to him if they are to have a real go at this game. In previous seasons, relegation-battling clubs have fielded weakened sides at Stamford Bridge but Roy Keane will surely be telling his players to fight for the points, and it would be hypocritical of him to send out the second-string so expect a full-strength eleven.

After a memorable last-minute win over Tottenham on the opening day of the season, Sunderland have been inconsistent to say the least. In recent weeks they have beaten Reading and bagged draws against North-East rivals Newcastle and Middlesbrough but then lost 7-1 to Everton in a spectacular act of capitulation.

Last time we played Sunderland at home they were on their way to the worst ever Premier League season any side has ever experienced. They gained just 15 points in the whole campaign and we certainly did them no favours by comfortably beating them 2-0. A rare Geremi effort coupled with a Drogba header bagged the points and hopefully we will see more of the same on Saturday.

Sunderland will put up a fight but ultimately bow down to Chelsea’s superiority. Don’t expect Avram Grant to be on Roy Keane’s Christmas card list come 4:45 on Saturday afternoon. And the Christmas connections just keep on coming!

Prediction: As I’ve said it’ll probably be a battling Sunderland side ultimately losing out to a swaggering Chelsea. We are on a great run while they are struggling near the wrong end of the table. Another 2-0 should be on the cards, maybe three or four if we really get going. Let’s hope for the latter.

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