It’s a well-worn cliche that a proven goalscorer is key to surviving any relegation battle, and Sunderland fans will be hoping Steven Fletcher can be the man to save their season before it completely implodes, starting when Norwich City visit the Stadium of Light on Saturday.
To be fair, Fletcher has been hot all campaign, with his 11 league strikes responsible for 34% of Sunderland’s goals total, although the Black Cats as a team have struggled and they are just six points above the relegation zone in 16th.
As such, the Scottish striker is 6/4 to get on the scoresheet when the Canaries are on Wearside this weekend.
With seven of his strikes this season being openers, and the pressure on Martin O’Neill to snap out of a six game winless streak, it’s worth upgrading that to a bet on Fletcher getting the game’s first goal at 9/2.
Yet, as that losing streak shows, even Fletcher’s prolificness has not been enough of late and another defeat for the Black Cats really would be pushing their luck given the form of other sides around them.
As I suggested in my weekend relegation odds review, Sunderland are beginning to look like the smart money play at that end of the table at 13/2, unless they can win this weekend.
Despite their lack of form, O’Neill’s team start as evens favourites with the visitors 13/5 and the draw 12/5 in 3Way betting.
The presence of Fletcher isn’t the only reason for Sunderland’s favourites tag; the Canaries are notoriously poor travellers.
Though they are sat in a relatively comfortable 13th place, Chris Hughton’s side have won just once on the road this season, averaging well below a goal a game in the process.
Without the motivation of imminent relegation danger, there’s a good chance that the Canaries will fail to score again at 31/20.
Part of the problem for Hughton has been the failure of his main man, Grant Holt, to recapture his form of the last two double-figures seasons. Stuck on five goals, Holt will be keen to notch at 11/4, while Luciano Becchio will be even more desperate to get on the scoresheet at 7/2 if he gets gametime having fallen behind fellow January signing Kei Kamara, who is 5/1, in the pecking order.
Yet if Sunderland can replicate their solid start to the season that saw them concede just four goals in the opening six games, O’Neill should be able to successfully engage a siege mentality for a tight under 2.5 goals win at 10/3.
And with three points more important than a performance, punters could do worse than back a 1-0 win behind a Fletcher goal at 22/1.While that outcome wouldn’t net new customers as much as the £60 million on offer for Premier League survival it would earn them a nice £460 payoff from the £20 free bet they receive when registering with bwin.