Managerless Sunderland face a tough ask in their bid for a first Premier League win of the season when they host Liverpool on Sunday.
Paolo Di Canio paid the price for a poor start to the season – which has yielded just one point from five league games – when he was sacked following their 3-0 loss at West Brom.
Caretaker boss Kevin Ball stepped in for Tuesday’s 2-0 Capital One Cup victory over Peterborough United and will retain his place in the dugout for this fixture as Sunderland continue to search for a new manager.
Ball will take confidence from the victory, which saw midfielder Lee Cattermole play a key role. The midfielder was rarely involved during Di Canio’s brief tenure and the caretaker has backed the 25-year-old to help Sunderland move away from the foot of the table.
“When I saw him on the pitch on Tuesday – bearing in mind he had not played 90 minutes for a long time – I think he produced a very accomplished performance, along with a fabulous ball for the goal,” Ball told The Chronicle.
Of immediate concern for Ball is shoring up a leaky defence that has not kept a Premier League clean sheet in their last nine matches, of which six have ended in defeats.
Defenders Wes Brown (calf) and Phil Bardsley (foot) are still sidelined, while attacker Fabio Borini is ineligible under the terms of his loan move from Liverpool. Striker Steven Fletcher (shoulder) will also miss the fixture, meaning that American Jozy Altidore is set to start up front, while defender Andrea Dossena (thigh) may return against his former club.
Liverpool enter the match on the back of successive defeats to Southampton and Manchester United. Brendan Rodgers’s side enjoyed their fair share of chances in the 1-0 Capital One Cup loss at Old Trafford, which saw Luis Suarez make his return from suspension.
The Uruguayan forward will play his first Premier League fixture at The Stadium of Light after serving his 10-match ban for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic.
Vice-captain Daniel Agger missed Wednesday’s fixture at Old Trafford with a knock and is in doubt, while fellow defenders Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho (both ankle) and Sebastian Coates (knee) are sidelined. Creative midfielder Philippe Coutinho will also miss out after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Liverpool will take heart from their good away form in the league, with Rodgers’s side unbeaten in their last six matches on the road.
Striker Daniel Sturridge – who has scored four Premier League goals – has netted seven times in his last four away games in the league.
And Liverpool, who are likely to field former Sunderland players Simon Mignolet and Jordan Henderson, will be hopeful his hot streak of form on the road continues as they go in search of a fourth Premier League win this season.