Date:Friday December 9 2011
THE MARTIN O'NEILL reign gets underway this Sunday live on Sky with a visit from struggling Blackburn Rovers.
The Lancashire outfit have been making as many headlines off the field this season as they have been on it, and not for the right reasons.
Most recently was the leaked e-mail which detailed the Venky family's plan to offer Rovers' supporters a free gig at Ewood Park featuring the likes of David Guetta, Akon and Kelly Rowland. Suffice to say, it never happened.
The recent decision to award hapless boss Steve Kean a new and improved contract was equally (if not more) baffling, but still the happy-go-lucky Scot fights on.
On paper, the former Fulham, Coventry and Real Sociedad coach doesn't have a bad squad to work with but just two league wins this season suggest otherwise.
The careless 'forfeit' of their Carling Cup quarter-final tie with Cardiff City will not have gone down well either. All in all, it's shaping up to be a long season for the Rovers' faithful.
If Ewood Park has any chance of hosting Premier League football next season, then experienced Nigerian forward Yakubu will have to continue his hot-streak. The former Everton, Middlesbrough and Portsmouth poacher has nine in nine for his new club having arrived from Goodison Park for a nominal fee. Four goals in the win over Swansea last weekend showcased his goal-scoring prowess nicely.
Slightly behind the 'Yak' is nippy Canadian winger-cum-forward, David or Junior Hoilett. Having come through the club's youth setup, Hoilett has made over 50 appearances for the club in the league, scoring eight goals. His impressive performances in a struggling side have prompted January Transfer Window interest from Spurs according to various sources.
At the back, powerful centre-half Chris Samba has somehow remained at Blackburn despite apparent interest from much bigger sides. The 6'4', 13stone centre-half is club captain and has racked up over 150 league appearances since arriving in January 2007 from Hertha Berlin. At his first club in native Congo, Samba was originally a hulking forward, but he since made his name as a fearless centre-half.
Rovers are without three senior players in Martin Olsson (hamstring), Vincenzo Grella (hip/thigh) and Ryan Nelsen (knee).
Sunderland on the other hand are facing a striking crisis for O'Neill's first game in charge. Connor Wickham and Frazier Campbell are both already out and Nicklas Bendtner could well join them leaving Ji Dong-Won the most senior option.
Ryan Noble could come in, fresh from collecting another hat-trick for the reserves in the 6-3 triumph over Manchester United. Stephane Sessegnon is also an option up top.
Michael Turner is doubtful whilst Jack Colback could miss out for Craig Gardner who will be given a new lease of life under O'Neill.
Sunderland: Westwood; Bardsley, O'Shea, Brown, Richardson; Elmohamady, Cattermole, Gardner, Larsson; Sessegnon; Ji.
Blackburn Rovers: Robinson; Lowe, Samba (c), Dann, Givet; Hoilett, Dunn, Formica, Pedersen; Rochina; Yakubu.
Date:Friday December 9 2011
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