Although Wigan Athletic’s defeat to Swansea City may have dampened Paolo Di Canio’s claim that Sunderland’s clash with Southampton this Sunday is their “Champions League final”, there’s no doubting that both sides will see this match as an excellent opportunity to secure their Premier League survival.
The excitable Italian has begun his tenure at the Stadium of Light with two wins, two defeats and a respectable draw – which came last Monday night against Stoke City.
Despite conceding an early goal to Jonathan Walters and also losing Craig Gardner to a red card, the Black Cats responded with a second-half equaliser from John O’Shea.
The result leaves Sunderland sat 15th in the division, three points ahead of Wigan and with a vastly superior goal difference.
In fact, Di Canio’s side are just a point and a place below their opponents this weekend, Southampton.
The Saints were highly unfortunate to lose 1-0 at Gareth Bale Hotspur last weekend.
Nathaniel Clyne squandered an excellent first-half chance, while Rickie Lambert saw his free-kick expertly tipped on to the post by Hugo Lloris, before Bale decided the game with his latest humdinger.
The performance was enough for Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas to label the Saints’ style “absolutely outstanding”, though that will have been of little consolation to Mauricio Pochettino, who has watched his side fall from near-certain safety a few weeks ago to a nervy finale.
Sunderland lead the way in bwin’s 3way betting market at 33/20, while the draw can be found at 2/1 and the Saints are 7/4 for a rare away victory.
These odds reflect the inherent unpredictability of this match, because you never quite know what you will get with Di Canio and Pochettino.
The Italian has overseen a spanking of Newcastle United in the Tyne-Wear derby and also a 6-1 collapse at Aston Villa, and the ex-Espanyol boss may have defeated both the deposed champions of England and Europe at St Mary’s, yet he has also lost to QPR.
But for all the uncertainty, this punter is convinced that the match has draw written all over it – and here’s why.
Sunderland will be missing Steven Fletcher, Stephane Sessegnon and Gardner either through injury or suspension; those three players have scored 60% of the Black Cats’ league goals this season. Conversely, Southampton are winless in four, and they have also failed to score in their last three.
And there’s also the little fact that, due to Wigan’s midweek loss, both sides only really need a point to be safe – especially with the Latics facing a daunting ask at Arsenal next week.
It’s not quite West Germany v Austria at the 1982 World Cup, but a stalemate would not be the most surprising result this weekend.
At 2/1, a draw would return £60 for any new customer looking to use their free £20 bet for joining bwin.com.
But I think there’s greater value to be found in a 1-1 draw at 9/2.
Both sides have form for score draws this season (Sunderland seven, Southampton nine) and with potential returns of £110 for that £20 stake, it could be the best punt for this “Champions League final”.