During the Christmas period, all Premier League games seem to take on extra significance but with the precarious position that both Southampton and Sunderland find themselves in, their clash at St Mary’s this weekend is truly a six-pointer.
Saints have embarked on a good run of form to drag themselves out of the relegation zone in recent weeks, winning three and drawing two of their last six games.
By contrast, Sunderland have continued to slide into trouble with last week’s 3-0 win over bottom club Reading representing only the third time they have avoided defeat in their last nine matches.
As such, the home side are odds-on favourites at 19/20, while the visitors are 14/5 and the draw is priced at 12/5.
With both teams in desperate need of points, this could turn into a typically tight relegation tussle similar to Sunderland’s recent 0-0 draw with fellow strugglers QPR or Southampton’s 1-0 win over Reading last time out, which makes draw/draw at half-time/full-time or 0-0 at half-time both good value at 17/4 and 2/1 respectively.
However, that would go against the style in which Nigel Adkins’ team have generally approached games so far this season, with the clean sheet against Reading just their second of the campaign.
So Sunderland will fancy their chances of not just scoring at 2/5 but getting the opening goal at 6/4, as they did on their last trip to St Mary’s in 2007.
One man is key to Sunderland’s chances of breaking the deadlock and that is seven-goal Steven Fletcher.
The Scotsman has been notching all season despite a lack of consistent ammunition and he is 9/4 to strike in this game and an even more generous 8/1 to get the opening goal that Saints have conceded in over 60% of their matches this season.
Yet the biggest challenge for Sunderland if they are to nick a result will not be in scoring goals, but in becoming only the second side to stop Nigel Adkins’ team hitting the back of the net at St Mary’s this season (the away side are 21/4 to win to nil).
But against a defence that has conceded at an average of 3.2 goals per game over the last six, it seems unlikely that the Saints won’t score at 9/50, let alone score in both halves at 19/10.
Adkins’ most likely marksmen will be six-goal Rickie Lambert, who is 5/2 to score at any time, and last weekend’s goal hero Jason Puncheon, who is 5/1 any time and 13/1 to again have the game’s final say.
New customers using the free £20 bet available when signing up to a bwin account to back Puncheon to grab the final goal stand to win an incredible £260.97 if successful.
As Saints are the side in form and have home advantage, I’m backing them to get the best of a tight game and so Southampton to win a game of over 2.5 goals at 21/10 is the way I will be playing this one.