AVRAM TACKLES KEANO

By Rowan Farnham-Long
Mar 14th, 2008

One relegation candidate put to the sword on Wednesday, one hopefully going the same way on Saturday, as Chelsea travel to Roy Keane’s struggling Sunderland side looking for another three points to boost our late title challenge.

After the 6-1 mid-week demolition of Derby County, the Blues sit just five points behind league leaders Arsenal with a game in hand and an upcoming home fixture against Arsene Wenger’s team. As The Gunners play at home against Middlesbrough on Saturday while fellow high-flyers Manchester United face up to whipping boys Derby away, a win at the Stadium of Light is vital if we are to keep pace.

Frank Lampard’s four goals against the Rams on Wednesday almost certainly guarantees him a place in the starting XI for the Sunderland game, but Avram Grant has shown that no-one is safe as he regularly shuffles his pack, to varying levels of success. Some fans are calling for key players like Joe Cole and Michael Ballack to miss out this match and instead be rested for big games on the horizon, however the Barnsley defeat last weekend showed we cannot take any team lightly anymore.

With only goalkeeper Petr Cech injured-stand-in Carlo Cudicini will make his 100th start-and no suspensions to speak of, the squad should probably be rotated, but Grant must decide the extent of the changes and predict the possible repercussions before picking the line-up.

Sunderland have been boosted by the news that exciting winger Carlos Edwards is ready to return to the squad for the first time since breaking his leg in December. Edwards played an hour for the reserves against Manchester United’s second-string and could be in line for a start or at least a place on the subs bench for the visit from Chelsea. Other than Edwards, Roy Keane has no real worries, with only Ross Wallace definitely out, while the veteran Dwight Yorke is doubtful with a calf strain.

Sunderland have gone three games without scoring, losing to Portsmouth and Everton by one goal either side of a bore draw with Derby. The Black Cats will be looking to change their luck for the better, as they sit just two points from safety with just nine games to go this season.

Sunderland haven’t beaten Chelsea for almost seven years to the day however, with a 4-2 win back in March 2001 bagging the points for Peter Reid’s side. Back in December of this year the Blues recorded a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge, with goals from Andriy Shevchenko and a Frank Lampard penalty, while the last time we travelled to the Stadium of Light was two seasons ago, which again yielded a win.

An eventful match saw Sunderland take the lead, with Liam Lawrence opening the scoring, but a Hernan Crespo equaliser was bettered by an Arjen Robben goal which proved to be the winner. However, Robben was promptly sent-off immediately after scoring for picking up a second yellow card. His crime? Celebrating a goal with Chelsea fans who had made the near 300 mile journey from SW6 to the North-East of England. But hey, that’s football nowadays!

We’ll be hoping for celebrations minus the recriminations as we aim to pass another tough test against Sunderland. With the final third of the season now in full swing, the end is in sight, and on the weekend of the BBC’s Sport Relief Mile, we must continue our marathon at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon.

Prediction: The 6-1 against Derby has continued the theme of superb bouncebackability following a defeat, and the manner of the win must have given the squad a huge boost in confidence. Simply riding on the crest of the Wednesday wave, it should be enough to take us through this game. I think a tight 1-0 win is on the cards, and we all know how good we are at them!

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