Sunderland travel down to the Potteries this weekend to take on Stoke City, a side who have matched the Black Cats’ season almost stride for stride.
Going into Saturday afternoon’s game, both teams are sitting in midtable in the Premier League with eight points to their names having won just one game and drawn five.
The similarities do not end there though, as bizarrely enough, both teams’ sole win of the campaign came on the same day at the end of September and they have each had goalless stalemates with Arsenal.
The problem for fans planning to go to the Britannia Stadium on Saturday is that the chances of a high-scoring thriller are slim, given that both teams appear to have the same fundamental problem: they can defend, but they can’t score.
Despite being 13th, Stoke have the third-best defensive record in the league, with only Arsenal and Chelsea conceding fewer goals to date, but the Potters have only managed a ratio of one goal a game from their attackers.
It does not help Stoke’s cause that two of those eight goals came in their previous outing, in which they were beaten 4-2 by Manchester United. Tony Pulis’ side took a surprise early lead thanks to the generosity of Wayne Rooney’s replenished pate, but as expected, United came rampaging back to take the three points.
Sunderland have also shown impressive defensive acumen, having conceded one less than Stoke (although they have played a game less), but like their hosts this weekend, they are yet to get to grips with putting the ball in the back of the net.
Martin O’Neill’s side have only managed six goals in their seven games and until last weekend had been utterly reliant on Steven Fletcher for attacking returns. Demba Ba’s late own-goal in the Tyne-Wear derby was the first time this season someone other than the Scottish striker had scored for the Black Cats.
The latest odds for this weekend’s clash show Stoke as slight favourites at 19/20 in bwin’s 3Way football betting market, with Sunderland priced as 3/1 outsiders and the draw available at 9/4.
Given the records of both sides so far, a draw certainly seems to be the obvious result and the 9/4 looks pretty generous. Punters joining bwin.com can claim a free £20 bet and placing this on Stoke and Sunderland to draw would return £56 if successful.
However, there are even better odds to be found elsewhere if you look hard enough.
For example, bwin is offering 11/5 on no goals being scored in the second half and given that Stoke have not managed to find the net after the interval in any home game and Sunderland haven’t scored in the final 45 minutes of any away game to date, this appears to be a superb bet.
Using this knowledge, it would also be fair to say that 15/4 on both halves of the game ending as a draw is another value play in what promises to be an extremely close affair between two evenly-matched teams at the Britannia.