Southampton Preview (H) - May 12
SOUTHAMPTON come to town this Sunday as Sunderland host the Saints in their penultimate Premier League fixture of the season.
Neither side is completely safe from the lingering threat of relegation, but after Wigan contrived to lose 3-2 at home to Swansea City during the week, safety is a step closer.
The Saints, just a point and a place above Paolo Di Canio's side in 14th, have recently endured a run of four games without a win, pulling them back into the relegation dogfight.
Three consecutive victories in March and April - beating Liverpool, Chelsea and Reading - had looked to pull Mauricio Pochettino's side to safety.
A win for Pochettino's men would see them secure their top-flight status for next season, regardless of Wigan's result against Arsenal next Tuesday.
For Sunderland, a win would not quite be enough, but with their superior goal difference - plus 10 on the Latics - it would virtually see the Black Cats to safety.
With just one win against the Saints in the last seven meetings between the pair Sunderland are due a win, but will come up against tough opposition.
Southampton pack a commendable amount of flair and attacking instinct for a side only promoted into the Premier League this term and in Rickie Lambert, the south coast outfit have a man with 14 goals in his maiden season in the top-flight.
The 31 year-old Kirby-born hitman has made a career out of scoring goals in the lower leagues, but has now proven himself at the highest level.
In the Grant Holt mould but with significantly more guile, Lambert is just three goals away from 200 in the league - a figure he has already comfortably broken combining all competitions.
Signed from League One Bristol Rovers when Southampton were at their lowest ebb in 2009, Lambert has paid back the fee and then some, bagging 92 league goals in 164 starts for the club.
Behind Lambert there are further supplementary forwards in Jay Rodriguez - signed from Burnley for £7m last summer, club captain Adam Lallana and one of £10m Gaston Ramirez, Brazilian Guly Do Prado or Jason Puncheon.
All of the above bring a fluidity and interchangeability with them, creating the chances that Lambert, more often that not, tucks away.
Lallana, 25, is one of several from the club's homegrown production line and is nearing 200 league starts for the Saints already.
Capable of playing anywhere in behind the main frontman, the 5'6' creative midfielder made three appearances on-loan at Bournemouth in 2007.
The slightly-built playmaker has weighed in with three Premier League goals this term - only one of which came in a defeat.
That homegrown theme continues throughout the side with midfielder James Ward-Prowse (18) and left-back Luke Shaw (17) make 13 and 23 Premier League appearances respectively this term.
Saints' boss Pochettino only has a couple of injury concerns with centre-half Maya Yoshida and midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin both set to undergo late fitness tests.
Di Canio has considerably more concerns with Stephane Sessegnon and Craig Gardner both suspended.
Lee Cattermole, Steven Fletcher, Wes Brown and Titus Bramble are all injured, but Connor Wickham could ease the Italian's headache if he returns this Sunday.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O'Shea (c), Cuellar, Rose; McClean, Larsson, N'Diaye, Colback; Johnson; Graham.
Southampton: Boruc; Clyne, Hoovield, Fonte, Shaw; Davis, Schneiderlin; Rodriguez, Lallana (c), Ramirez; Lambert.
Referee: Mr M Dean.
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